We're participating in the Earth Day celebrations by committing to composting, recycling and reducing the waste that we produce in our Harlem kitchen. At Red Rabbit, all of our organic waste is composted daily. Composting involves recycling organic materials, such as food scraps, paper, leaves and branches, by encouraging decomposers to break them down in a controlled environment. When they're done, they leave a fertile soil that can be used in local farms, school gardens or classroom plantings. Read on for ways that you can start a composting program in your school, community garden or neighborhood.
For schools looking to “green” their practices and shrink their environmental footprint, the collection of compostable materials is a great step in the right direction. The process of composting recycles food waste and provides some of the most nutrient-dense soil for growing food. In addition, composting in a school setting provides endless educational opportunities and can work for a variety of budgets. These include composting with worms, schoolyard composting and large-scale collection of food scraps from an off-site hauler. We'll explore each method so you can choose the right composting option for your space.
Things to consider before choosing a method right for your program
- Space for onsite composting area (i.e. indoors or outdoors)
- Student body size and amount of waste/food scraps that will be generated
- Student body age: how will they participate?
- Staff availability, interest, and skills for maintenance
- Pest control
- What to do with final compost product
Choosing the Right Compost Project for Your School
Classroom Worm Bins (Indoors; Small Scale)
Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is an easy method for teachers and students to bring into the classroom. You'll need the following materials:
- a small bin (wooden or plastic) no larger than 36 inches x 24 inches x 18 inches
- a pound or two of red worms
- some torn newspaper for bedding.
The resulting compost is a wonderful fertilizer for classroom or home use. The worms also lend themselves to numerous math and science learning opportunities.
Key Points about Worm Bins
- Small amounts of compost produced
- Small amounts of fruit, veggies, bread & paper can be used
- Great for classroom based curricula
- Variety of ages can participate
- Final product of small amounts of compost, great for indoor planting or school garden
- Year-round, can be kept indoors
Schoolyard Composting (Outdoors; Small To Medium Scale)
Schoolyard composting is similar to backyard composting and there are a variety of outdoor methods and bins which may be used. On a small-scale, one or two clasrooms can participate and contribute food waste, or on a larger scale waste from the cafeteria and classrooms can be collected for compost. You can purchase a vessel that comes in a variety of sizes and models, or build your own.
Key Points about Schoolyard Composting
- Requires outdoor space and maintenance
- Can be tied to and used with school garden
- Needs established leader/group for maintenance, such as turning and layering compost, etc.
- Small to large amounts of fruit, veggies, bread & paper towels composted
- Year-round, but maintenance requirements can be affected by weather/change of seasons
- Must keep pest control in mind
- Final product of potentially large amounts compost.
- Great for use in school garden, or donation or for sale to community gardens, farms, etc.
Off-Site Scrap Collection (Indoors; Small To Large Scale)
Larger scale composting is increasingly available as more communities add composting collection to their waste and recycling programs. Schools in these communities can take advantage of local infrastructure and hire a local company to haul away the compostables for processing at a large-scale facility. Your school may be eligible for the NYC Department of Sanitation pilot program for organics collection (see http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless). Trash will be reduced and trash hauling fees can be cut by 30% or more to compensate for this cost. The big advantage to this method is that large amounts of food-waste, non-recyclable paper and yard waste can be collected and composted quickly and efficiently.
Key Points about Worm Bins
- Requires hauling away from the site
- Requires in-school coordination and education for separating organics and waste management
- No final product of compost to handle
- Year-round, indoors
Whichever method is right for you, we hope you'll join us on the journey toward reducing waste by starting a composting program in your community this year. Share your progress with us by tagging @myredrabbit on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.