Eco-Healthy Child Care® Fact Sheets:

Managing and Reducing Waste

From manufacturing to final disposal, the life cycle of most manufactured products takes a considerable toll on both the environment and children's health in the form of excess waste. Poorly managed waste poses a threat to the health of our environments, water and air and in turn the health of children. Many types of waste contain toxic substances that when disposed of can leach into soil and groundwater or be released into the air following incineration.

Concerns for Health and the Environment

U.S residents generate waste at an astonishing rate of four pounds per day per person, translating to 600,000 tons per day or 210 million tons per year! There are many different types of waste that are manufactured, used and discarded:

  • Plastics
  • Electronic waste
  • Manufacturing/Industrial waste
  • Non-plastic municipal waste
  • Food waste

Trash icon. 

Electronic waste (i.e., computers, televisions, VCRs, sterios, copiers, fax machines, cell phones) alone contribute an estimated 20-25 million tons per year into the global waste stream.

Whether due to the pollution emitted by the manufacturing plant, extra energy consumption from non-renewable energy sources, or the unhealthy disposal of so much waste, the production, use and disposal of manufactured products poses a serious threat to the health of all people and our environments.

Waste and Environmental Justice

Due to the historic red-lining of neighborhoods and the intentional division of communities during highway and city development, many manufacturing facilities, landfills, waste incinerators and highways are disproportionately located black and brown communities across the U.S.—exposing these populations to greater amounts of harmful chemicals.

Protecting the Environment & Health

The most important way to save valuable resources is to only use what is needed. Establishing a national recycling program that requires manufacturers’ responsibility for the entire lifecycle (creation, distribution and disposal) of the products they create would aid greatly in reducing the U.S.' waste and consumption problem.

Recycling icon.

On an individual level, reducing our use of single-use items, can also assist in protecting the environment and our health.

Tips For Healthier Waste Management

Ways to Reduce Waste and Reuse

  • Replace paper napkins and towels with cloth napkins and towels that can be laundered and reused. Cloth hand towels and towels for cleaning may be used for “single-use” only and then laundered - to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Avoid using disposable plates, cups, and utensils/cutlery. In addition to adding to waste, many also contain plastic additives that are harmful to human health.

Plastic jars containing food.

  • Opt for glass, pyrex or porcelain food and drink containers whenever possible. Stainless steel drinking containers are okay for use with water.
  • Buy/sell used items; always check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for product recalls before purchasing used toys and equipment.
  • To avoid excess packaging, buy staple food items in bulk and use your own reusable storage containers (i.e., glass jars).
  • Substitute throw-away batteries with rechargeable batteries. Dispose of batteries properly by taking them to a hazardous waste facility near you

Small boy watering a garden.

  • Start a worm bin or other composting system using yard clippings, eggs shells and produce waste. Involve the children in your care so that they learn from an early age how and why to compost.
  • Recycle glass, paper, cardboard, and aluminum on a weekly basis.
  • Create a recycling ‘work station’ - where children learn how to differentiate the materials and sort products according to what they are made out of.
  • Properly recycle all unwanted electronic products.


  • Support ‘Manufacture Take-back Programs,’ where manufacturers or retailers accept used electronic products from their customers or take electronic waste to a hazardous waste facility near you.
  • Always recycle items containing mercury (batteries, thermometers, thermostats, and compact fluorescent light bulbs or tubes) by taking them to a hazardous waste facility near you.

Waste Storage*

Unfortunately, not everything can be recycled, so proper garbage disposal is a must for any child care facility and home. Keeping garbage areas clean and contained, and garbage containers sealed, can reduce germs, prevent pests, and minimize odors:

Multicolored trashcans.

  • Take the trash out daily.
  • Clean the inside and exterior of empty trash cans.
  • Make sure indoor garbage containers have tight-fitting lids and plastic linings.
  • Keep outdoor garbage containers, including composting bins, covered tightly. Ensure the lids fit well to form a seal.
  • Ensure all garbage areas are inaccessible to kids. Keep garbage storage (e.g. large dumpsters/cans collected by trucks) at least 50 feet away from the entryways of the child care facility or play yard.
  • Keep containers on pest-proof pavement such as concrete, which should be cleaned regularly.
  • Promptly recycle glass, cardboard, paper, and aluminum. Be sure to rinse and clean recyclables.

*Adapted from UCSF California Childcare Health Program