Composting at School

Recycle food scraps from school lunches and other organic material, like leaves and plant clippings, into nutrient-rich compost. 

Onsite Outdoor Composting

Set up a compost bin or pile outside in the schoolyard or garden. Get out of the classroom for hands-on learning such as measuring the temperature of the compost and examining the bin to find different types of insects and worms. Contact the District for help setting up an effective compost bin.

Schools should check local zoning before composting onsite. Most schools in Hamilton County, Ohio may compost without a permit under the following conditions:

  • The compost site cannot exceed 500 square feet for all material, including the active compost pile(s), curing pile, and stored bulking material (such as dried leaves, straw, wood chips, shredded paper, etc.).
  • The site cannot create a nuisance, such as dust, odors, or attracting vermin. If someone complains about the site, the Health Department will investigate.
  • The site cannot be located in or close to a watershed.

Some suggestions to make your compost program successful:

  • Only compost fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, garden trimmings, and weeds.
  • Start small. Consider just collecting food scraps from the environmental club, one class per day, or one grade. If everything goes well, then increase collection.
  • Provide signage with pictures of what can and cannot be composted where you collect food scraps.
  • Have plenty of carbon-rich material (dead leaves, shredded paper)  on hand to balance the nitrogen-rich food scraps and plant trimmings. Cover food scraps completely with carbon-rich material.
  • Do not put the compost area near a property line.
  • Provide some type of training (assistance is available from the District) for everyone who adds material to the compost area.
  • Create a schedule to take food scraps to the compost pile/bin and turning the pile/bin. We recommend turning it at least once a month during the spring, summer, and fall (do not turn it in the winter).

Vermicomposting Indoors

Invite worms into the school. Starting a classroom worm bin to compost food scraps will reduce food waste going into the landfill and become a living teaching tool for biology. Because worm bins use non-native worms and are kept indoors, we recommend special training before starting a worm bin. Teachers may acquire training and materials by attending a local vermicomposting workshop.

Haul-Away Composting

Have food scraps hauled to a commercial composting facility. Commercial compost facilities can usually accept animal products (meat and dairy) and oily food in addition to fruit and vegetable scraps. Contact the District for up-to-date information on local haulers, compost facilities, and tips.

Setting up Your Program:

  • Find out what organics the hauling company can accept.
  • Seek input from school staff (teachers, janitors, cafeteria staff, etc.) about the new program prior to beginning.
  • Educate students and staff about composting. Be sure to let participants know that although you may compost animal products and oily food at a commercial composting facility, you should just compost plant-based materials when composting onsite. 
  • Coordinate with kitchen and/or custodial staff about how to move the collected material from the cafeteria to the outdoor collection station.
  • Sorting in the Lunch Room: Put together a team of students, staff, and/or parent helpers to oversee the waste sorting station for each lunch period in the beginning. Make sure helpers are aware they need to teach students how sort materials by themselves instead of doing the sorting for them. The goal is take make waste-sorting a habit.
  • Provide several waste-sorting stations to keep lines short.
  • Provide something for students to rest their trays on while they are storing their waste.
  • Encourage students to separate the waste on their tray (e.g., compostables on the right, garbage on the left) before they get up from their table helps the sorting line move quicker.  
  • Provide signs with pictures at each receptacle showing what goes where. Monitor what is going into each container and adjust signage as needed.
  • Examples of commercially compostable items: all food scraps (fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy bread); napkins; paperboard food boats; sometimes compostable tableware (forks, trays, cups, etc).
  • Examples of items not commercially compostable: Polystyrene (Styrofoam) bowls, cups, plates, trays, etc; plastic (forks, cups, straws, string cheese wrappers, condiment packets); chip bags; juice pouches; juice boxes; aluminum cans.

*Items that are labeled as biodegradable or compostable are not necessarily accepted at commercial composting facilities. Be sure to check with the company hauling your compostables before purchasing new items you intend to separate for composting. 

We are here to help, so never hesitate to contact Cher Mohring at 513-946-7737.