Composting In Schools

Composting as a Waste Management Technique

A major issue facing modern society is waste management. More simply put, what should we do with the waste we produce? A growing emphasis has been placed on the three R's: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Composting provides a means of accomplishing all three of the R's. Through composting the amount of garbage sent to the landfill is reduced, the organic matter is reused rather than dumped, and it is recycled into a useful soil amendment.

Natural ecosystems have a proven method of breaking down organic materials into a useful end-product: the decomposers found within the food chain break down nature's organic waste and turn it into humus, the organic component of soil.

Composting is a way of harnessing the natural process of decomposition to speed up the decay of waste. The history of composting dates back to the history of early agriculture. Many find that composting is as much of an art as a science. Recent concern about managing wastes and producing food in an environmentally sound manner has led to a renewed interest in small-scale, backyard composting as well as an interest in developing large-scale, commercial and municipal composting systems.

Designing successful composting systems requires an understanding of certain biological, chemical, and physical processes such as the movement of air, uptake of carbon and nitrogen, and heat production and transfer. Students can be a part of the process of obtaining scientific information about composting, whether their results are applied in their own home, school, or by industry. At the same time, students engage in hands-on, minds-on composting activities with an opportunity to improve their understanding of many scientific processes and disciplines.

The study of waste production and management lends itself to interdisciplinary study, and school composting provides an opportunity for real-world problem solving with cooperative learning groups. It therefore can motivate students who feel alienated by traditional "science" experiences. Furthermore, students gain an awareness of individuals' roles in the world today as they learn how waste is produced and how it can be reduced. Finally, through construction of compost systems, students are empowered to make a positive change in their world. For it is afterall our youth to whom this planet belongs.

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Cornell Waste Management Institute © 1996
Dept of Crop and Soil Sciences
101 Rice Hall, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-5601