Composting at School

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

  • 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. Teachers can get training and materials to build a worm bin by attending a local vermicomposting workshop.
  • 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.
    • Consider arranging for food scraps hauling to a local commercial compost facility. Contact the District for up-to-date information on haulers, compost facilities and tips.


On-Site Composting at School

Schools in Hamilton County, Ohio may compost under the following conditions:

  • The compost site cannot exceed 300 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 stream.


Some suggestions to make your compost program successful:

  • Start small. Consider just collecting food scraps from the environmental club, one class per day, or one grade. If everything goes well for a few months, consider increasing collection a little at a time.
  • Only compost fruit and vegetable scraps, garden trimmings, and weeds.
  • Provide good signage (with pictures) of what can and cannot be composted where you collect food scraps.
  • Have plenty of carbon-rich material on hand to balance the nitrogen-rich food scraps and plant trimmings. Some examples of carbon-rich materials are dead leaves, fine wood chips from untreated wood, shredded paper, and shredded cardboard. If you ask for wood chips or leaves from a landscaper, make sure you are very clear about how much you want so you do not exceed the 300-sq-ft size limit.
  • Make sure food scraps are always covered by carbon-rich material (see above examples).
  • Do not put the compost area near a property line.
  • Provide some type of training (assistance is available from the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District) for everyone who adds material to the compost area.
  • Create a schedule and sign-up list for folks to take turns taking 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).
  • Reserve the right to stop collecting food scraps at any time in the event you have too much material. Simply stop food scrap collection for a short period (post a sign at the collection site). Do not collect food scraps and then throw them away. It can be discouraging for those who are separating their waste and will create rumors that compostables are always thrown out.


We would like to know how your composting project is going, particularly any challenges, so that we can help others in the future. We are here to help, so never hesitate to call (513-946-7737) or email.

Off-Site Composting at School

Setting up Your Program:

  • Select an organics hauling service. You should always contact your waste hauler first to see if they offer the service. If your waste hauler does not provide this type of service, contact Future Organics, Inc., at 708-479-6900 or
  • Inform school staff (teachers, janitors, cafeteria staff, etc.) of new program prior to beginning.
  • Educate students and staff about composting. Be sure to let folks know that although you can compost animal products and oily and greasy food at a commercial composting facility, you should stick to plant-based material in backyard compost sites.
  • Purchase compostable trash can liners. Note that there is a difference between compostable and biodegradable products; the former should be used for this program.
  • 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. Make sure helpers are aware they need to teach students how to sort by themselves instead of doing the sorting for each student. Keep a supply of compostable can liners on hand if they are being used.
  • Provide several waste sorting stations to keep lines short.
  • It’s helpful to provide something for students to rest their tray on while they are at the sorting station.
  • If students separate the waste on their tray (e.g., compostables on the right, garbage on the left) before they get up from their table, the sorting line moves quickly.
  • Provide signs with pictures at each receptacle showing what goes where. Keep an eye on what is going into each container and adjust signage as needed.
  • Examples of Commercially Compostable Items:               
    • All food scraps (fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, fish, bread)
    • Cardboard milk and juice cartons (as long as they are not coated in plastic)
    • Napkins
    • Paperboard food boats
    • Paper towels
    • Compostable tableware (forks, trays, cups, etc.)
    • Cardboard, including wax lined
  • Examples of Items Not Commercially Compostable:      
    • Polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) (bowls, cups, plates, trays, etc.)
    • Plastic (forks, cups, straws, string cheese wrappers, ketchup packets, etc.)
    • Chip bags
    • Juice pouches
    • Juice boxes (unlike milk and juice cartons, these have a plastic layer)
    • Aluminum cans
  • Items that are labeled as biodegradable are not necessarily acceptable at commercial composting facilities. Be sure to check with the company hauling your compostables before purchasing new items you intend to separate for composting.


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