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Young Sprouts: Composting Logistics for Early Childcare Facilities

Activities and Play

2/11/2022 | Emily Jaeger

Composting can be an easy and cost-effective way to incorporate environmental education into the daily classroom routine. There are potentially few upstart costs because learners are already organically supplying the materials: food waste from their lunches and snacks. If you have a school garden or are interested in starting a gardening program, compost will help keep your plants healthy. Making your own compost means you won’t have to buy it! 

However, composting is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every childcare facility. It may or may not be possible to make compost from start to finish on site. You may find that your staff doesn’t know how to compost or doesn’t want to deal with managing food waste. The first steps to introducing composting at your facility are figuring out what type of composting is right for you and how to compost. 

Different Types of Composting and Pick Up Services

One important question to consider is whether or not you plan to make compost from start (collecting food scraps) to finish (garden-ready compost) on site. Do you have enough room outdoors? It is also important to check your local laws and regulations to make sure you are allowed to have an outdoor composter at your facility and if you need a permit. 

One traditional and low-cost set-up is 1-3 compost piles in a wood-frame, chicken wire, or plastic fencing. The method: classrooms collect food scraps and deliver them regularly to the outdoor pile where they are mixed with dried leaves or straw. If you have multiple sections, once one section is full, it can be left to decompose while you start filling the next. 

Purchasing a tumbler or other specialized container is best for demo composting on-site and will produce enough material for a small garden plot. Tumblers make it easier to turn the compost and will produce completed compost more quickly. Purchasing specific composting equipment, food scraps, and other materials will be more contained but you are limited by size and price. 

Even if it’s legal and you have enough space, on-site composting might not be for you. Outdoor composters have to be maintained regularly to prevent odors and even those that are well maintained can attract pests. In this case, consider a compost service to pick up the food scraps collected by each classroom. 

How to Compost

Once you’ve decided on what system will work for your facility, you are ready to start composting. Each classroom can be equipped with a compost receptacle to collect daily food scraps. If you have decided to use a composting service, they will provide exact instructions for what waste they will accept and how to prepare it for pickup. 

If you have decided to do any composting outdoors on-site, there may be more limits to what materials you can use. You should not put dairy, meat, or pet waste in the compost. These will attract pests to your compost and may contain harmful parasites and diseases. Check out this list from the EPA for helpful suggestions of what food can be composted and what to avoid. 

To prepare an outdoor composter, you need three main ingredients. Equal amounts of browns--dead leaves and twigs--and greens--plant waste, food waste, and coffee grounds. Compost also needs to be kept moist with water. 

To begin, have your classes collect a day’s worth of appropriate food scraps (greens). Have dry leaves (browns) on hand. Find a shady, dry spot for your compost pile or container. Form a layered mound from alternating equal amounts of greens and browns, making sure to add water between layers. The final pile should be as moist as a wrung-out rag. While not 100% necessary, some starter compost, a.k.a a couple of shovelfuls of compost from an established pile will help introduce beneficial bacteria and microorganisms to get things off to a good start. 

Continue to add equal amounts of greens and browns to your compost. Water if necessary. Complete compost, which looks like crumbled chocolate cake, will appear at the bottom of the pile in 2 months to 2 years depending on how often you turn the pile

Next Steps

Of course, just like recycling, if your composting program isn’t backed up by scaffolding for learners in class, that compost bin won’t have anything in it. Check out the next Young Sprouts blog on how to teach composting for early childhood.

Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). Her writing has been featured on Parents Magazine, Kveller, Motherfigure and more. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com or on instagram @soulinparaphrase.

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