Department of Environmental Conservation

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Green Schools

Schools across New York are recycling, reducing waste, saving energy, conserving resources, preventing runoff pollution and working to eliminate toxic materials. In addition to the long-range benefits of good environmental stewardship, green policies help schools provide healthier surroundings for their students and staff.

See our extensive list of teacher resources related to the environment, including lesson plans, workshops, poster contests, and green chemistry information.

New York State issued a proclamation (PDF) declaring April 24, 2012 as Healthy Schools Day in New York. View a list of schools that have won DEC's prestigious Environmental Excellence Awards.


Cover of Conservationist for Kids Magazine

Conservationist for Kids

Conservationist for Kids is DEC's very own nature and outdoors magazine for students. The magazine is sent to all public school 4th graders three times a year. Visit the website for additional activities and resources for educators and fun "green" activities for your school.

Lesson Plans and Workshops

DEC offers environmental education lesson plans and training for educators, and can provide printed materials and support to help teachers focus on environmental issues in the classroom. DEC also runs several poster contests that children can enter.

Project Learning Tree's GreenSchools! program (leaves DEC's website) has a number of investigations for youth to run at their school building -- examining waste and recycling, water use, energy use, and the entire school site as a whole. Project Learning Tree is sponsored in New York by the DEC's Bureau of Environmental Education.
[*Note: you have to sign up to view the investigations. It is free to sign up.]

New York Recycles!

New York Recycles! is part of a national event - America Recycles. Visit the webpage for teacher information and an educational booklet with activity pages and resources for use in the classrooms. Also find other ideas for incorporating recycling into the classroom for Green Schools and learn about recycling resources.

Recognition and Award Programs

NYS Green Ribbon Schools

The NY State Education Department's Green Ribbon Schools program (leaves DEC's website) recognizes schools taking a comprehensive approach to greening their school. A comprehensive approach incorporates environmental learning with improving environmental and health impacts. It is the New York nomination process for the US Education Department's Green Ribbon Schools program.

Grant Opportunities

Environmental Justice Community Impact Grants

Environmental Justice grants are available for projects such as cleanup of lead or mercury contamination in schools and education projects connecting inner-city students to nature.

Recycling Grants

Matching grants for school districts are available through the Municipal Waste Reduction and Recycling State Assistance Program.

Urban Forestry Grants

Grants are available for eligible urban forestry projects including plantings on school properties.

Green Schools Grant

The New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling (NYSAR3) offers a Green Schools Grant program -- check for timeframes and opportunities.

College Grant Program

NYSAR3 offers a grant program for New York State universities and colleges (leaves DEC's website) that focuses on source reduction, reuse, or recycling projects.

School Grounds and Facilities

Toxics Elimination, Reduction

See introduction to green chemistry practices to minimize hazardous waste.

Solid Waste Reduction, Recycling

Recycling is mandatory in schools in New York State. This site provides assistance in establishing comprehensive waste reduction programs in schools.

Public and private schools, institutions of higher education and any other educational institutions in New York State are required to recycle materials collected in their local recycling program.

Recycling is required for everyone who generates solid waste in New York State. Recycling is one part of a total solid waste management program; waste reduction and reuse take precedence in a comprehensive solid waste management program. Each municipality was required by Chapter 70, Laws of New York 1988, to have a recycling law or ordinance requiring source separation of recyclables. The municipalities developed a recycling program that fit their needs and met the goals established by the State and each has their own penalties or fines for those people who do not recycle.

According to our latest numbers, New Yorkers generate around 5.0 pounds of solid waste each day. There is tremendous cost to both society and the environment to collect and dispose of this waste material. In addition, if we are landfilling or incinerating our wastes, the resources contained in those waste materials are no longer available to us in a useful form. The availability of recycling has changed the way many of us view our solid waste. Instead of useless "waste," we have learned that much of what we once threw away can be used again many times over.

Evaluate Your Current Recycling Program. Review your current recycling program. Make certain that you are recycling all of the items required by your local law. If you are not, meet with your hauler and custodial staff to get your school in compliance. Read A School Waste Reduction, Reuse, Recycling, Composting and Buy Recycled Resource Book (PDF).

Contact Your Municipal Recycling Coordinator. Your city/town probably collects many recyclable items. Your local recycling coordinator may be able to provide you with information on what is mandated in your community and how to prepare these items. Find your local recycling coordinator.

Food Waste Reduction & Composting

Food waste audits help identify the types and sources of food going to waste in a school, which can inform future purchasing habits and menu planning. Waste audits offer many opportunities for students to get involved in the process.

Composting helps divert food scraps, inedible food, and yard waste from disposal in landfills. Schools composting their organics on-site (K-12 and college campuses) are exempt from DEC composting regulations. Composting on-site offers opportunities for hands-on learning. It also allows gardening or environmental clubs to be directly involved in the process and the finished compost can then be used in school gardens or landscaping.

Hazardous Waste Management

DEC's Waste Management program provides guidance managing proper disposal of fluorescent lamps, mercury-containing equipment, electronics, Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) and other hazardous waste, such as lab chemicals.

Outdoor Air Quality

Heavy-duty vehicles, including diesel trucks and school buses, are prohibited from idling for more than five minutes at a time, with few exceptions; learn about the anti-idling law and required vehicle emissions inspections.

You can also visit the EPA website (leaves DEC's website) for more information on reducing children's exposure to diesel exhaust and the amount of air pollution created by diesel school buses.

Pest Management

Schools and day care centers that apply pesticides must meet DEC and State Education Department requirements. Information about alternative pest management methods is also available.

Stormwater Management

Learn how state standards for stormwater management may apply to your school. There is also information and guidance for adopting techniques for green infrastructure, including green roofs and rain gardens.

Green Cleaning Program Online Training

New York State Office of General Services (OGS) offers online training courses to facility managers, school administrators, educators, parents, and citizens. These courses provide a wealth of free information and tools to promote adoption of effective green cleaning practices, leading to healthier indoor environments. You can access these courses by visiting the OGS Green Cleaning Program online training (leaves DEC's website).

Other Resources

All links leave DEC's website

New York State Office of General Services (OGS) - OGS Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, Energy Efficient Purchasing (Executive Order No. 111), Green Purchasing (Executive Order No. 134), Recycled and Remanufactured Purchasing (Executive Order No. 142).

NYS Green Ribbon Schools Design Program - New York Collaborative for High Performance Schools prepared by the New York State Education Department.

New York State Healthy Schools Program - New York's program is supported by the Healthy Schools Network fostering national healthy school environments.

New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) - Looking for ways to make energy efficiency improvements to your school or thinking of building a new energy-efficient school, NYSERDA can help.

More about Green Schools:

  • School Chemical Management - Information and resources for school employees in creating a chemical inventory in addition to storing and disposal of school chemicals.
  • Green Chemistry - This page provides information on greening chemistry in NYS Schools: what is green chemistry and how to get started.