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Lauren Murray

Scientific Writing 291-003
Spring, 2016

Is composting a sustainable option for public schools?
Composting is a form of anaerobic decomposition that turns otherwise wasteful material into
valuable fertilizer (Wilkie, 2015). Composting is achieved by inputting organic waste into a mixture of
fertilizer, acid and water (Blondin, 2014). Composting benefits are seen in many areas. First, composting
reduces detrimental greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere (Maheshwari, 2014). Food
waste in landfills causes large amounts of harmful methane and carbon dioxide gas to be released into the
environment. Second, the low cost, low difficulty and waste reduction aspects of composting make it an
economical option for public schools (Zhang, 2011). In addition, public schools can benefit from the
hands-on learning and enthusiasm composting can offer to various school subjects. Educators can also use
their composted materials to garden healthful foods for students to enjoy (Lautenschlager, 2007).
Composting is a sustainable option for public school’s students, teachers and surrounding environment.
Composting is a natural way to recycle high quality material that would otherwise turn harmful
for the environment. Food is a large contributor of methane and carbon dioxide emissions (Maheshwari,
2014). According to Couth (2012), there are expensive ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions called
landfill recovery systems. Landfill recovery is a way to reactively lower pollution. Composting is a
proactive method of ensuring reduced greenhouse gas emission. Composting clearly benefits the
environment in an economical and sustainable way. Teachers can use composting in the classroom as a
tool for students to teach how a variety of sciences come together. Composting is an exciting way to teach
sustainability in the public school classroom while simultaneously helping the environment.

In order to attain success when composting, one must use the correct materials. Depending on the
classroom size, learning level, and teacher preference, composting can be done on a large or small scale.
Both options involve fertilizer, acid, water and organic waste (Fell, 2011). The larger scale composting
project would include a 55 gallon drum or garbage bags (Fell, 2011). In contrast, the smaller scale project
would include glass jars (Galus, 2002). All composting projects must contain proper carbon to nitrogen
and water ratios and a neutral pH in order to yield a functional product. It is recommended that the carbon
to nitrogen ratio be within 25(carbon):1(nitrogen) to 30:1 (Fell, 2011). Different organic waste materials
have different set carbon-nitrogen ratios. Before composting, the teacher or student should calculate the
ratios of their specific waste product. The moisture level of the composting mix should stay at or above
40% (Stanley, 2010). Couth (2012) explains that a pH of 6.5-8 is the optimal zone to effectively compost
in. Table 1 visually represents the proper conditions for composting (Fell, 2011, pg. 352).

Ideal Composting Environment

Table 1: Ideal Composting Environment (Source: Environmental Encyclopedia, pg. 352)
It is also important to note that the higher the quality of organic waste put in, the higher the
compost quality will be (Stanley, 2010). According to Blondin (2014), the kids at public schools throw
out fruit, vegetables and milk products the most. These are all high quality organic waste items that will
produce a high quality composted product. Also, students will inevitably throw away peels from fruits
such as bananas and oranges. Not only are fruit peels a high quality input waste material, they are also the
most cost effective waste option for public schools. Peels are the most sustainable composting waste item
because they are free to obtain (the peel is not an added cost when purchasing fruit) and they are always
seen as waste. A successful composting project can be done with simple materials, proper carbon to
nitrogen ratios, proper pH levels, proper water content, and high quality waste such as fruit peels. In
Figure 1 below, three public schools were examined to see what their total waste was composed of
(Wilkie, 2015, pg. 1375). Food is the number one waste product in each school.
Composting is an economic option for public schools because of its cheap input materials.
Furthermore, composting can save schools and the surrounding community larger dollar amounts through
reducing landfill recovery (Couth, 2012). Unbeknownst to most people, most of the greenhouse gases
such as carbon dioxide and methane released from landfills is from organic food waste (Zhang, 2011). To
combat these harmful gases entering the atmosphere, a process called landfill gas recovery is put in place.
Landfill gas recovery can be done a number of ways with the main goal being reduction of greenhouse
gas emissions and/or converting the harmful gases into usable energy (Zhang, 2011). This method of
greenhouse gas reduction is expensive and time consuming. Dumping waste into a landfill is a more cost
effective option (compared to composting) in the short term. However, composting consists of mostly
one-time purchases and will end up being more cost effective than landfill dumping and gas recovery in
the long run.

Three Public School’s Food Waste

Figure 1: Audit of School Waste at Three Florida Schools (Source:Sustainability, pg. 1375)
Not only is composting a sustainable option for the environment, it is also sustainable as a
valuable learning experience for individuals in public schools. Numerous applications have proven that
composting can be used as a hands-on learning experience across schools subjects and across many grade
levels. In 2002, Galus underwent a successful teaching experiment using composting. Galus, a public
school science teacher, noted that her students found the hands-on learning of composting lead to high
level thinking (2002). The composting experience can be a success for the teacher as well as the student
because higher level thinking leads to higher level questioning and deeper understanding of the material.
In 2006, Handler led another hands-on learning public school activity that concluded with students
reporting higher self confidence in their abilities as scientists. Through hands-on activities, students were
able to remember, understand and apply their knowledge better than if the material was taught through a
traditional lecture (Handler, 2006). Composting allows the material to be taught as inquiry instead of
memorization. When students are responsible for a part or all of an experiment, their questions and
thoughts come from a place of true inquiry based on necessity. In addition, students understood the
material so thoroughly that they had the ability to teach the knowledge they learned while composting
(Handler, 2006). In other words, student will want to ask questions in order to understand the material
further when it applies to them personally (such as composting to better their school and environment).

Composting is a learning experience that can be easily dispersed into many school subjects. Public
schools can teach composting in chemistry and biology classes when talking about the scientific method,
methane and carbon dioxide emissions, and decomposition. Geography teachers can integrate composting
into their classrooms by explaining how decomposition and growing rates vary by location and climate.
Also, health classes such as nutrition and physical education can teach students about the benefits of
growing and consuming fresh, organic produce. Overall, composting is a sustainable way to get students
involved in hands-on learning at their school. Figure 2 shows the ideal way to teach for lifelong learning.
Each part of the pyramid can not be completed without the subsequent level. In addition, the higher the
level on the pyramid, the more the student will experience life long learning (Handler, 2006, pg. 9).
Composting is not only represented as hands-on learning, it can also be applied in the uppermost level of
Optimized Performance when students can take their knowledge and apply it to gardening and
composting at home.
Pyramid of Ideal Learning Structure

Figure 2: Pyramid of Ideal Learning Structure (Source: Journal of Science Education and Technology, pg.

Composting has been shown to be economically, environmentally and educationally sustainable
for public schools. Furthermore, composting is a sustainable way to invest in student’s future health.
Composting yields a very effective fertilizer that can be used to garden with. Composting and gardening
can be taught together in school systems. Gardening has been shown to improve students diets through an
increased consumption in fruits and veggies (Lautenschlager, 2007). Exposure to fresh food through
gardening increases the likelihood of the student consuming that particular food (Lautenschlager, 2007).
Gardening with composted materials gives educators a unique opportunity to teach students about
healthful foods and sustainable ways of growing.
In conclusion, composting is seen as beneficial throughout a public school. Composting is a
sustainable option for the environment. Composting leads to less organic waste in landfills, which leads to
less greenhouse gas emissions into the environment (Maheshwari, 2014). Some public schools may look
at composting as an expensive alternative to using landfills. However, it has been shown that composting
has manageable start up and continuation costs, and reduces long term costs of landfill gas recovery
(Zhang, 2011). Therefore, public schools have found composting to be economically sustainable as well.
Lastly, composting is a sustainable option for effective student learning. The hands-on process leads to
increased knowledge and confidence about the subject (Handler, 2006). Furthermore, composting can be
taught as a successful hands-on learning process across school subjects and grade levels. Educators also
have the opportunity to use composted materials to start a school garden in which students can learn more
about fresh, healthy food choices (Lautenschlager, 2007). The numerous benefits of composting can be of
value to many public schools. Composting is a highly beneficial and sustainable option for public schools.

References Cited
Blondin, S.A., Djang, H.C., Metayer, N., Anzman-Frasca, S., and Economos, C.D., 2014, ‘It’s
just so much waste.’ A qualitative investigation of food waste in a universal free School
Breakfast Program: Public Health Nutr. Public Health Nutrition, v. 18, p. 1565–1577.
Couth, R., and Trois, C., 2012, Cost effective waste management through composting in Africa:
Waste Management, v. 32, p. 2518–2525.
Fell, G., 2011, Composting: Environmental Encyclopedia, v. 1, p. 355–357.
Galus, P.J., 2002, Classroom composting: The Science Teacher, v. 1.
Handler, A., and Duncan, K., 2006, Hammerhead Shark Research Immersion Program:
Experiential Learning Leads to Lasting Educational Benefits: Journal of Science
Education and Technology J Sci Educ Technol, v. 15, p. 9–16.
Lautenschlager, L., and Smith, C., 2007, Understanding gardening and dietary habits among
youth garden program participants using the Theory of Planned Behavior: Appetite, v.
49, p. 122–130.
Maheshwari, D.K., 2014, Composting for sustainable agriculture: Switzerland, Springer
International Publishing.
Stanley, A., and Turner, G., 2010, Composting: Teaching Science: The Journal of the Australian
Science Teachers Association, v. 56, p. 34–39.
Wilkie, A., Graunke, R., and Cornejo, C., 2015, Food Waste Auditing at Three Florida Schools:
Sustainability, v. 7, p. 1370–1387.
Zhang, H., and Matsuto, T., 2011, Comparison of mass balance, energy consumption and cost of
composting facilities for different types of organic waste: Waste Management, v. 31, p.