Calling all K-12 Youth!

Participate in a national recycling video and poster contest sponsored by ISRI, the Voice of the Recycled Materials Industry™, and JASON Learning!

Recycling’s Role in Sustainability 

Your Challenge

Your challenge is to improve an existing consumer product using Design for Recycling® principles. You will share your solution in a poster/infographic or a 2-minute or less video.

This contest limits the definition and impact of recycling to products constructed from these commodities: Metal, Fiber (Paper & Cardboard), Plastics, Glass, Tires, and Electronics. You can learn more about each commodity below.

Your video or poster should focus on
improving an existing consumer product using Design for Recycling® principles.

Design for Recycling® principles are: 

  • Contain the maximum amount of materials that are recyclable.
  • Be easily recycled through current or newly designed recycling processes and procedures.
  • Be cost-effective to recycle, whereby the cost to recycle does not exceed the value of the recycled materials.
  • Be free of hazardous materials that are not recyclable or impede the recycling process.
  • Minimizes the time and costs involved to recycle the product.
  • Reduce the use of raw materials by including recycled materials and/or components.
  • Have a net gain in the overall recyclability of the product while reducing the overall negative impact on the environment.

Designing with recycling in mind means recognizing that a product’s usefulness does not end because the original intent for the product has run its course. This way, people who make things think about how they can be used again and again, so we don’t throw away as much, and we save things from nature.


When you are thinking of ideas to research, research why common items are not recycled. For example, shoes are not often thought of as a recyclable item. How could shoe designers plan for shoes to be recycled into a new product?

Let’s consider the lifecycle of a plastic milk jug. An engineer designed the milk jug so that it could easily be carried around, would contain exactly 1 gallon of milk, could be used to store and pour milk, would fit on a refrigerator shelf, and would be made of plastic. This designer may have yet to consider using recycled plastic as source material or collecting bottles after customers use it to put the plastic back into the supply chain where it could become, for example, reusable shopping bags.

Design for Recycling®

According to ISRI, “Designing with recycling in mind means recognizing that a product’s usefulness does not end because its original intent has run its course. By designing with this methodology, manufacturers use recycling and repurposing to plan the product’s new lifecycle, reducing waste and reliance on natural resources.”

Products are created in such a way as to make them both recyclable and easy to disassemble, ensuring that all of the different commodities used to make the product are recycled at the highest capacity rate. Currently, some things are too costly because of the way they are constructed and have to be disassembled in order to recycle effectively. Thus, they are treated as a waste item. 

Some things have contaminants that cannot be recycled, and some need to go through a process like shredding, where one item is separated more easily while smaller amounts of the product are lost.

Design for Recycling® can result in the creation of improved and new products that provide both short-term and long-term health, environmental, and economic benefits. Let’s get started with this challenge! The Earth is counting on you!

Some products are more recyclable than others. For example, single-use plastics like forks and spoons are often caught in recycling machinery because of their small and narrow shape and are therefore, not very recyclable. But plastic bottles are easily recycled – and a bottle you recycle today could end up in the shirt you wear tomorrow!

How can you make something more recyclable? 

There are lots of ways! Here’s a few:

  • Make it bigger! Items that are smaller than 3 inches x 3 inches for 2D items, like paper or 3x3x3 inches for 3D items, are likely to fall through the equipment at the recycling facility and not be recycled.
  • Make it simpler! Items that are made from multiple materials are harder to recycle. Making something out of a single type of metal, one plastic resin, or all out of paper makes it more recyclable.
  • Make it detachable! Being able to remove individual parts from a product is an important part of the repair or recycling process. Avoid using glues that make it difficult to detach pieces. Mechanically attach pieces using screws or buttons instead.

Now it’s your turn get creative...

Your challenge is to improve an existing consumer product using Design for Recycling® principles. You will share your solution in a poster/infographic or a 2-minute or less video.

Your poster or video should:

  • Commodity: Highlight a specific product and identify the commodities (materials) your product is made of. Your product should be made from one or more of the following materials:
  • Criteria: Your improved product should be designed to:
    • Ensure customer satisfaction.
    • Maximize the use of renewable materials for the product and its packaging.
    • Incorporate recycling across the product’s lifecycle.
    • Minimize the environmental impact across the product’s lifecycle.
  • Research the recycling process of your chosen product, including details about the parts that make up your product.  
  • Redesign the product of your chosen product to follow the Design for Recycling® Principles. 
  • Imagery: Include a picture or visual representation of your chosen product’s recycling journey!
  • Title: Display the title “Design for Recycling®on the title screen of the actual video or display clearly on the poster itself.
  • Be innovative!  Think creatively!

You Could Win an Incredible Experience!

The winning students of the Youth Recycling Contest, along with their parent/guardian and teacher, will embark on a trip to the ISRI National Convention in vibrant Las Vegas on April 15-16, 2024! The grand champion video and poster winners will not only receive prestigious awards but also have the honor of showcasing their phenomenal work to the esteemed ISRI membership. Pictured below are the winners of the 2022-23 contest in Nashville, TN!

Recycling Contest Ask-an-Expert LIVE Events

Join experts from ISRI, the trade association representing the recycling industry, and JASON Learning to hear about this year’s recycling contest! Open to all students K-12, teachers, and family members. This is an opportunity to hear from experts in the recycling industry, receive helpful tips and strategies for submitting a successful entry, and ask questions. This event is also great for students who are also undecided about entering and wish to learn more.

*Please note: all students under the age of 18 must register for this event with an adult (family member, teacher, parent, guardian).

Check out these helpful ISRI resources!

Helpful Vocabulary:

  • Recyclability: The characteristic of a product, packaging, or associated component that can be collected, processed, and put back into use as raw materials or products.
  • Product: An item or substance that is manufactured (made) to sell.
  • Commodity:  A raw material that is used to make a product. Products might be made from more than one material or commodity. Examples are glass, metal, paper, textiles, electronics . . . etc.
  • Sustainability: The needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Non-renewable resource: A natural resource that cannot be replenished by natural means at a pace that keeps up with the consumption or use of the resource.
  • Product life-cycle: Includes the product’s design, manufacturing, use, and recycling.

Learn more about each commodity for your project:

Thank you for all of your entries! The submission portal is now closed.
Winners will be announced in mid-March, 2024.

If you have any questions, please email for assistance.

Check out our Recycling Activities Collection: Lessons and Resources for Grades K-12!

Designed in partnership with ISRI, the trade association representing the recycling industry, students explore the benefits and challenges of sustainable recycling through a variety of activities ranging from physics and chemistry to engineering and human impacts while becoming informed citizens and careful consumers.