New recycling education program launches in OC classrooms

As part of a multifaceted outreach program to educate students, residents and organizations about recycling best practices, Orange County Waste & Recycling, in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education’s Inside the Outdoors environmental education program, is launching a new curricular initiative aimed at challenging local learners to adopt sustainable behaviors.

Eco Challenge

Under the Eco Challenge umbrella, the program will provide local educators with materials that support classroom lessons, student engagement and family activities connected to Orange County’s waste diversion efforts. Nearly 20 local schools recently participated in a pilot program to sample and give feedback on the new curriculum, with dozens more expected to implement the curriculum in the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

And while waste diversion goals can be reached through activities such as edible food rescue, composting and other digestion of organic waste, Lori Kiesser, education and partnership coordinator for Inside the Outdoors, says the curriculum intends to educate the county’s youngest consumers, creating a lasting impact for the future and increasing engagement in these practices.

“The program enables OCDE to better support local districts with the implementation of science and history academic frameworks, including California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts — or EP&Cs,” said Kiesser. “The EP&Cs, which highlight the relationship between human and natural systems, are required to be taught in the classroom and must be focused on local environmental priorities.”

Aimed at building environmental literacy, the program seeks to support local communities in achieving the organic waste diversion goals set forth under Senate Bill 1383. Approved by the governor in 2016, the law changed the way California manages organic waste and required a 75 percent reduction in the statewide disposal of organic waste by Jan. 1, 2025 based on 2014 levels.

“The partnership with OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors program is key to the county’s next generation of waste diversion education and programs in response to state standards and more recent economic impacts within the recycling industry,” said Tom Koutroulis, director of OC Waste & Recycling. “OCWR and OCDE are uniquely positioned to provide teachers, students and families with resources that support academic frameworks to ensure accessibility for all communities in Orange County.”

While the Eco Challenge curriculum is a relatively new program, OCWR has been partnering with OCDE and Inside the Outdoors for years. In fact, the Project Zero Waste partnership between the two agencies received the state’s highest environmental honor — the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award — as well as a the California School Boards Association’s highly regarded Golden Bell Award.

For additional information on Eco Challenge and how local educators can adopt curriculum in classrooms, please contact Inside the Outdoors at

OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors has been a leader in hands-on science and social science programs since 1974. The mission of the program is to empower students, teachers, parents and the community to explore natural areas and expand their knowledge, understanding and stewardship of the environment. To learn more about Inside the Outdoors, visit the ITO website.