Guest blogger: School Composting Programs

Happy Earth Day! In celebration I’d like to share a guest blog post about something you probably never even considered: composting in the schools. How cool is that? Kids love dirt! And what a great way to start a garden.

Jeremy runs the blog Sustainable in the Suburbs, which covers all things sustainable in the Chicago Suburbs and it’s on twitter @SustainableSub. Sustainable in the Suburbs is a one stop location for all things related to sustainability in the Chicago Suburbs, whether it be local news, sustainable living, or interviews with local leaders in sustainability; its a place where you can learn, connect, and get involved.

Good school lunches or bad, if all of the food on the tray is not eaten, it usually all goes into the same place, the trash.  And just as with school lunch, when it comes to disposing of leftover food, there is a better way.  Most schools in the country throw leftover food right into the garbage can.  Just like in the elementary school cafeteria in Jamie Oliver’s television show Food Revolution, the three thuds of the tray against the side of the garbage can signaled that food was being thrown into the trash, where it will most likely head off to a landfill in an airtight bag, to be preserved indefinitely, sealed underground.  But, there is a better way: school composting programs.   School composting programs are not only better for the earth, but they can also be an amazing hands on learning laboratory for the students and help them to become good stewards of the planet.

As landfills fill up, disposing of our waste is becoming more of a problem. One beautiful thing about much of the waste we generate, especially in a school cafeteria, is that it can be composted. Creating composting programs in schools is good for the planet and has multiple benefits for the students. A website created by Cornell University that covers the benefits of composting in schools says it best. 

“With composting, children can do more than just sending cans or newspapers off for recycling — they can see the entire cycle, from “yucky” food scraps or other organic wastes to something that is pleasant to handle and is good for the soil. Contrary to the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy, children who compost become aware of organic wastes as potential resources rather than just as something “gross” to be thrown away and forgotten. They learn through direct experience that they personally can make a difference and have a positive effect on the environment.”
Compost is not only a great way to dispose of organic waste on site, it is a great teaching tool and can be incorporated into biology, chemistry, and physics lessons. Great compost is also the foundation for organic gardening and an on-site compost program would be a great addition to any school garden.
Many schools already have great compost programs. Mansfield Middle School in Connecticut has an outstanding school compost system (and a fantastic website). The Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District has also set up a school composting system and has composted over 278 tons of food scraps! The King Open School in Cambridge shares their school’s lunch time compost program with details on how they do it and their experiences with the program.
So what are we waiting for? Lets start talking to our children’s educators and school administrators and encourage them to start composting at school. Its good for the earth, instills positive values into our children, and it can be an amazing laboratory for learning. 
Additional Composting Resources:

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13 thoughts on “Guest blogger: School Composting Programs

  1. My elementary school had a barn as part of the campus (in Connecticut, no less). All uneaten food would go in the pig bucket and the trays, etc would be thrown away. The janitor would sit by the garbage pails and make sure we were feeding the pigs. The farm was a great experience (and is now gone) and the whole idea of recycling stuck with me. I feel bad for the kids who never got to have "Down on the Farm". But maybe the kids I was in school with are continuing recycling. Who knows? Happy Earth Day, in any case.

  2. My college has a giant compost tub. We just got it this year and now produce 75% less trash.

  3. Normally I am horrified by what I see on your blog – mostly because for some kids this is the majority of food to which they have access. However, today I am inspired. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope you don't mind (and if you do, I'll delete it) but I posted about this entry/your blog on my own blog, to hopefully raise awareness and inspiration.

  4. This is a great idea! Teaching children about recycling and composting early in life is really important for shaping the future of our planet. Though, this is definitely easier said than done, as it would mean getting every staff member in the school on board with the idea and putting someone in charge of the program overall.

    There is actually a fairly new company in New York City (called Leave It Better) that has one of their main projects as going into classrooms and teaching the students about composting and gardening. They are documenting what they do and it should all be available on their website when it fully launches.

    It's really great to know that people are thinking of this in varying areas of the country! Hopefully the idea catches on soon.

  5. The daycare center I used to work at had a composting program. Even toddlers were learning how to separate compostable items from other trash.

  6. Thanks so much for this, particularly the links. I am in the process of thinking through a proposal for composting in my daughter's elementary school, and these will be a lot of help.

  7. Well, most of IL garbage is transported to WI landfills. So to save IL money and WI ladfill, compost would be the logical solution. Wouldn't it?

    But that would be thinking, huh? About dollars, cents and sense, huh?
    Wll dang it. Politicians be dammed if they're not thinkin'..

  8. My mother-in-law is a cook at a University and they are doing a trial composting program (it's Eastern Illinois University in case anyone wants to search for and read the article). They are just composting the scraps in the kitchen, not the actual students leftover food. I love the idea especially turning into garden's and having the kids involved w/ that, but not sure how realistic this would be w/ young kids who might not get what should and shouldn't be composted…

  9. I'm all for the school compost idea. However much of the processed foods that these kids are being fed are not compostable.

    The uneaten veggies and fruit can be easily composted, but all of the uneaten pizza, burritos, and chicken nuggets are still going to have to go to the trash.

    I love the idea of a campus pig, though, to take care of the processed leftovers.

    And as I write this, I wonder: how is it that we're feeding kids food that is good for a pig but because of its unnatural nature isn't fit for the compost pile?

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