LAUNCH Lessons:
Composting at School K-5th

This toolkit address the following Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) within the Performance Expectations of NGSS for Grades: K-2 and 3-5

  • Asking Questions and Defining a Problem
  • Planning and Carrying out Investigations
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Obtaining Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Students will analyze their daily habits to see where they can reduce their waste, energy, and water usage.

Project Management

  • Students will keep track of how many resources they are saving.
  • Students will practice leadership skills by delegating tasks to each other.

Evaluation and Assessment
Students will track and evaluate the impact of their project.

Table of Contents

Do you believe in magic?!

In this fun project toolkit, you will be doing a little bit of magic! You will be turning something no one wants – food scraps and uneaten eats – into something worth its weight in gold: incredible, nutrient-rich soil that’s perfect for growing healthy, tasty and wonderful food. We’ll provide you with everything you need to set up a successful composting program at your school.

Within this toolkit, you’ll find various downloadable resources. For your convenience, you can access them all in one place by clicking on this link to view them in a Google Drive folder.

Toolkit Details

Why It's Important

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. Similar to nature when deceased plants and animals decompose into the soil, we too can turn decomposing food waste into a nutrient rich product called humus that can regenerate the Earth’s soil.

What You Will Accomplish

Composting is good for your school and the planet! By composting your school’s food waste, you will:

  • Reduce the waste going into a landfill
  • Cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions 
  • Turn that food waste into humus or compost 
  • Create the soil on your campus and in your community
  • Be able to grow food in your rich soil

Educator Project Plan

Follow the steps below to set up a successful Composting Station at your school! Need help? Contact us!

Track your metrics and submit your impact after implementing this toolkit. Your feedback helps keep our programs free for all across the globe.

Determine Participants

Use our Composting at School Sign Up Sheet.

  • A Student Group such as (a club, before/after school program, non-school organization)
  • A whole class
  • The whole school
  • Working with a small group of students? Plan to collect and compost food waste once or twice a week 
  • Working with a larger team? Assign 1-2 people to collect food waste and manage compost daily 
  • Is your whole school involved? Assign a classroom or grade level to manage compost each week

Why Should You Compost?

The resources provided below can be shown as a slideshow or printed out as individual worksheets for students to learn.

Billions of Pounds of the Food We Produce is Wasted

Did you know more than 60 billion pounds of mineral-rich food go to landfills each year in the U.S. alone [1] while US schools waste 530,000 tons of food annually. [2] That’s right, sadly, about 70% of the waste that we throw away without a second thought could be repurposed to create a nutrient rich product that supports healthy soil and can grow nutritious food without using chemical fertilizers. [3]

Wasted Food is Harmful to the Environment

When food waste rots in a landfill it releases harmful greenhouse gasses that trap the sun’s heat in our atmosphere and contribute to global warming. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, food is the single largest category of waste put in landfills. Food in landfills emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States. [4]

However, when food is composted, it releases no greenhouse gasses at all, effectively reducing emissions mentioned above.

Composting Is So Easy!

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It happens every second of every day when dead plants and animals decompose and break down into soil in natural environments. When food waste is combined with carbon rich materials like dried leaves, sawdust, shredded paper, moisture and heat from the sun, it will quickly break down and transform into humus, also known as compost. This can be done in a backyard compost bin, a community garden or sometimes through your municipal waste hauler. When added to gardens and landscaping, finished compost will help rebuild the soil nutrients and hold in moisture. Best of all – it’s the best soil to help you grow nutritious food!

Food Waste is an Environmental Justice Issue

Waste is often classified as an environmental justice issue due to the inequalities that exist between low and high-income communities. Wealthy neighborhoods are often given more resources to manage waste reductions while disenfranchised communities are frequently left with inefficient provisions to maintain a clean living environment. Furthermore, the same low-income communities are usually located in close proximity to waste management facilities where additional pollution burdens individuals. (Waste360)

Watch these two short videos to learn why composting is important!

Think About It!

Pre-Activity Questions

  • Take note of your lunchtime trash for a day. How much of it is made up of food waste?
  • Where do you see food being wasted the most and why do you think it happens?
  • What do you think happens to the food scraps your school throws away?
  • Describe a time when you’ve seen natural things decompose or break down in nature.
  • Why do you think composting is important?

Take Action: How to LAUNCH Composting at Your School

Lead your classmates through the “Composting at School” activity with guided instructions. Check out “Pro Tips” with each step for useful help:

1. Meet Your School’s Decision Makers

Set up a meeting with your principal and custodial staff to obtain permission and discuss the best way to incorporate composting into the custodial staff’s current routine.

2. Choose Where On Campus You’ll Compost

Composting activities will ideally take place in two locations on campus. Food scraps will be collected in the lunch area and taken to a separate location for composting. Take a look around your campus; ideal areas for composting are a school garden or an area that is away from classrooms and a lot of foot traffic.

3. Get What You Need to Succeed

Pick up or purchase the correct compost units for your campus. Learn more by checking out the Types of Compost Systems info sheet.

  • If you will be composting in a garden area or have access to a sunny, out of the way area with a dirt ground then a regular bin composting unit is right for you.
  • If you will be composting on concrete or have limited space then a tumbler is right for you.
  • Make sure to have enough compost units for the amount of food waste you will want to compost (if you are adding food scraps daily, you may want to have 2-3 bins that you can rotate use between weekly, adding to one while the others rest).
  • If your school has access to municipal composting services through your waste hauler then food scraps will go directly into your waste hauler compost cart to be picked up by your waste hauler.

Contact your City or School District to see if you can get a free compost bin!

4. Teach Your Classmates About Compost

  • You can use this handy script – our Student Composting Education Script  – to teach your peers why composting is important, which food scraps can be composted and how to sort their food waste.
  • You can get the message to your school by hosting a school assembly, giving classroom presentations, creating a video (and/or use the video link provided earlier!) to be share with students or shown in class.

5. Plan Where Students Will Collect Food Waste

Create a plan for collecting food waste and brown materials for onsite composting. (For municipal composting, food will be added directly to your waste hauler’s food waste cart and then be placed in the appropriate location to be picked up by your waste hauler for off site composting).

  1. Get or purchase buckets or cans that will be used only as a “food waste” container.
  2. Print the signs provided to place on food waste bins to show students what can and can not be placed in the food scrap collection (this will differ for onsite and municipal composting).
  3. Announce to all students and faculty when food waste collection will begin.
  4. Brown materials like leaves and dried clippings will need to be added to the food waste at a 2:1 ratio. Make a plan to collect these from campus maintenance workers or school parents and store them in bags or a designated bin near the compost units on campus.

Have a Leaf Drive in the fall to build up a surplus of dried leaves for composting.

6. Plan How Students Will Manage the Compost System

Develop a plan and schedule for transporting food scraps to the composter to be composted. Use our Campus Composting Team Organizer to organize your team. Ideally this will be done by a team of students who can take turns performing the following tasks:

  • Review the Campus Composting Overview and “How To” doc (Pro Tip: print this document and post it near your composting supplies).
  • Before lunch: place food waste bins with signage next to trash/recycle cans in the lunch area. Feel free to use our Compost Collection Receptacle Signs.
  • After all students have eaten: Collect the food waste container and take them to the compost area.
  • Weigh food waste and record on our Composting at School Weekly Tracker.
  • Empty the food waste into the compost bin and rinse the receptacle.
  • Maintain your compost! Learn how to maintain your compost in bins and in tumblers below.
  • Return tools and food waste receptacle to designated storage spots.
  • At the end of the week, turn in the Composting at School Weekly Tracker form to your project manager
  • Turn the compost mixture with a shovel or spade to add oxygen.
  • Add water if the mixture is too dry, compost should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. (pro tip: use the water from rinsing your food waste receptacle to add moisture to your compost bin).
  • Add a thick layer of brown materials covering all of the visible food scraps to prevent flies.
  • Close and secure lid of compost unit.
  • Add twice as many brown materials as food scraps
  • Add water only if the mixture is too dry, compost should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Food scraps will normally provide all of the moisture needed in a tumbler.
  • Close and secure unit door and rotate tumbler 3-4 times

7. Compost Achieved

Harvest compost when ready. Once a compost bin or tumbler is full it takes 3-4 months to break down into compost. Finished compost should look like dark, crumbly soil with few large pieces. It should smell like the forest. Shovel finished compost through half inch chicken wire or screen to filter out larger pieces (which can be put back into composter to finish breaking down). Store screened compost in a bin or tub then add it to landscaping or garden soil as needed.

Click here for more information on Vericomposting.

Reflection Questions

How’d It Go?

  • What did you enjoy most about composting your campus food waste? 
  • What were some roadblocks or difficulties you faced?
  • What surprised you the most about the compost process?

Report Students’ Impact

Congratulations!! You’ve implemented Composting at School! Don’t let all that hard work go unnoticed. Submit your results by clicking the button below.

Project ongoing? No problem! Let us know what you’ve done so far. 

By reporting your impact, Grades of Green can:

  • CELEBRATE and elevate your students’ hard work and success. 
  • Offer our programs FREE for all students across the globe. 
  • AWARD stipends and certificates to hard-working educators and students.

Please take a few minutes to submit your results. Thank you!

Congrats on completing the Composting at School Eco-Toolkit! 

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