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Reducing waste, saving money, helping the environment

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Photo: Hillary Chop

Composting at school is an excellent way of reducing waste, teaching students the concept of recycling - and saving money! About one third of waste going to the landfill is organic material much of which can be composted at home or at school in vermi-composters, outdoor containers and compost piles. Unlike the glass, metal, plastic and paper put out at the curbside in blue or green boxes, composting is a recycling process in which children can fully participate in from start to finish.

The soil in schoolyards is typically very poor. Instead of using commercial fertilizer to improve the quality of the soil, schools can start making their own.

There are lots of curriculum materials for kindergarten through high school on the 3Rs of waste management and many excellent reference resources and classroom activities on both indoor and outdoor composting.

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In addition to saving limited funds by making your own fertilizer at school with yard and lunchtime organic waste, you can also save money by building your own composting bins. They can be made from unwanted skids, waste wood and discarded food containers such as plastic olive barrels with holes drilled at intervals over the entire surface for proper aeration. Most books on composting include plans and instructions for building different types of composters.

Composting indoors and outdoors

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Composting organic lunchtime and yard waste at school is an important way of reducing waste and provides many opportunities for connecting young people to natural processes year round.

For composting indoors with worms, all you need is a container about the size of a curbside recycling box with a lid and holes drilled in the sides of the box for proper aeration. You will need a pound or so of red wiggler worms, bedding for the worms and a supply of fruit and vegetable peelings. Some stores stock kits containing all the items required for vermi-composting; however, all you really need to buy are the worms unless you can obtain some from a friend or someone with a vermi-composter in another school.

One of the best resources available for indoor, or vermi-composting is Worms Eat Our Garbage. Go to Resources. It is full of detailed information on the management of the vermi-composter habitat and the organisms that you are likely to discover living there as well as many interesting class activities.

Outdoor composting is something that happens naturally all the time. Students can learn a lot about death, decay and regeneration by observing and recording nature's way of doing it and by managing their own outdoor composter. Children often assume that a composter is dirty and bound to be smelly, surrounded by flies and wasps and inhabited by rats. It helps to have them think of a composter not just as some other container in which to throw lunchtime and yard waste, but as a habitat for the organisms that consume the organic material. Children generally know that living things need air, water, food and shelter but not many of them will view a "garbage" receptacle as a habitat that can provide organisms with all their needs.

When children begin to create and care for their own green spaces and use their composted waste for improving the soil to promote healthier plant growth, they can better understand the ecological and economic value of school and home composting.

Composting is easy, but some research and planning will be needed. If problems arise, there are good resources to help solve them. Also, parents and people in the community who compost at home can share their experiences and expertise with you, and many municipalities have developed "how-to" materials to assist home-owners with composting.

The Recycling Council of Ontario's video, The Magic of Composting, helps to generate interest in composting among children. For an excellent article on school composting Rhea Dawn Mahar, go to:

Climate change connections

Climate change connections can be made by using the many existing curriculum resources on the 3Rs and teaching about the ways in which the consumption of fossil fuels can be reduced by school and home composting. About one third of waste trucked to the landfill is organic and can be reduced by composting. Reducing the need to truck organic waste to landfills reduces the fossil fuel emissions that contribute to climate change and are harmful to humans, wildlife, vegetation, water and building materials.

Home composting also decreases the amount of energy used for manufacturing, packaging and transporting commercial fertilizers.

In anaerobic conditions in landfills organic waste generates methane, a greenhouse gas which is twenty to sixty times more powerful over time than C02. Anaerobic bacteria in properly aerated composters at home or at school do not produce methane.

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