Composting activities for preschoolers

How do you teach kids to compost?

Simple. You learn how to do it yourself, then make it part of your daily routine and family culture.

Composting is a great way to reduce your family’s waste, save money, and encourage your children to learn about nature and gardening. You’ll turn your food scraps and household organic matter into fertilizer instead of sending it to a landfill or a dump. You can use it in your raised beds or permaculture garden.

Since we’re an off grid family living off a remote highway in Canada’s far north, hauling garbage out to the dump is a pain. So we’re always looking for ways to minimize our trash. And because the soil quality here is poor, we’re learning how to add nutrients to the soil in our raised garden beds. Composting is a big help.

For the past two years, we’ve been composting indoors through the long winter months. Now that our two youngest are old enough to take on the composting chores, I decided to include composting as part of our off grid homeschooling routine.

Contents

Today I’m sharing these tips on teaching composting to kids at home, plus a Composting for Kids Free Printable Pack. You’ll find the link down at the bottom of the post.

What is Composting?

Composting is the natural process that occurs when organic matter breaks down into a granular material. This dark, soil-like matter is rich in nutrients and a valuable organic fertilizer for your home garden. Composting requires little to no investment, yet the payoff is huge. It saves money, reduces waste, and is a useful life skill to teach your children.

How to Teach Kids to Compost: 7 Tips to Get You Started

The easiest way to teach kids how to compost at home is to simply include it in your family routine. Use these tips to get started.

1. Teach Kids to Identify Compostable Materials

Your compost is only as good as your ingredients. So make sure you and your children know what can and can’t be composted. Compostable household materials include:

  • fruit and vegetable scraps
  • eggshells
  • coffee grinds
  • grass clippings
  • leaves, twigs and branches
  • newspaper
  • coffee filters

2. Teach Kids What NOT To Compost

Once your children know what can get composted, show them what cannot go in the compost. If you add these materials, you’ll end up with a slimy, smelly mess. And if you’re composting outdoors, you could end up attracting unwanted visitors such as raccoons, neighbourhood dogs, foxes, and even bears.

Materials that should NOT get composted include:

  • meat
  • fat
  • bones
  • cheese
  • milk
  • oils
  • pet poop
  • diseased plants or flowers

Even children as young as three or four years old can learn to identify what is compostable and what isn’t.

Tip: Post our “Can I Compost This?” printable on your fridge or kitchen wall for easy reference. It’s part of our Composting for Kids Printable Pack – link at the bottom of this post.

Make it easy for your kids to compost with a clearly identified compost container. Buy or make an indoor compost bin or pail.

Some people prefer a foot-pedal style kitchen garbage-can system. You’ll find them in your local hardware store or even online. Some models have three containers: one for trash, one for recyclables, and one for compost.

I loved the idea of this, but so did our yellow Lab Leo. As far as he’s concerned, a floor level compost bin is a bonus food bowl for him. So we decided to go with a countertop compost system.

At first, we had a stainless steel counter compost pail, but the charcoal filter didn’t seem to do much to keep the smell down. And it was annoying to have to replace them. Plus, it was difficult for little hands to lift the heavy lid.

Since we’re always trying to find ways to save money, we moved to a coffee can compost system. We just have a large coffee can on the counter right across from our kitchen garbage.

4. Make it Part of Your Daily Routine

As with most lifeschooling opportunities for kids, making composting a part of their daily routine from an early age is key to success. They’ll soon get the hang of putting apple cores, banana peels, vegetable scraps and eggshells into the compost before doing their dishes (hah!)

Related: Using Foraging to Teach

In our home, compostable scraps go into the coffee can on the kitchen counter. When it gets full, the kids dump it into our indoor compost bin (in the winter) or our outdoor compost bin (in the summer.)

5. Schedule Weekly Composting Activity and Learning Opportunities

Depending on where you live, you might get a deal on an outdoor composter.

In some parts of Canada, residents can take proof of residence to their local municipal office or waste disposal area and get a free or discounted outdoor composter. These easy-to-use big bins let you add your kitchen compost and yard waste to the top. As the compost “cooks” inside, it eventually turns into dark, soil-like material you can access through a little door at the bottom.

When you’re teaching your kids to compost, schedule weekly composting activities as a regular family chore you can all work on together. Depending on the state of your compost, this could be turning hot compost with a shovel, adding worms, or spreading it in the garden.

In addition to hands-on learning and lessons, composting also gives you an opportunity for many academic lessons. Depending on the age of your children, you could read picture books on composting, watch videos, complete unit studies, or do a science experiment. Scroll down the page for a list of free online resources to help kids learn about composting.

6. Fun With Worms: Vermicomposting With Kids

Let’s face it – fruit and vegetable scraps and coffee grounds might not appeal to all kids – or even all adults! When the “thrill” (and I use the term loosely) of composting wore off on our kids, my husband had a brainwave. It was time for worms.

One of our homeschooling friends gave us a tin of red wiggler worms. We released them into our indoor Rubbermaid compost bin and began our adventures with vermicomposting. It sits in our water tank room during the winter. Unless you live off the grid and pump your own water from the lake behind your house the way we do, chances are you don’t have a water tank room. That’s perfectly fine – just keep your compost bin in a room-temperature environment out of the reach of pets.

The kids were fascinated with vermicomposting. They spent hours watching the worms burrowing in and out of the fresh compost.

Adding red wiggler worms helped keep the odour down in our indoor compost bin. According to Red Wiggler Supply down in Vancouver, BC., one pound of red wiggler worms consume up to 1/2 pound of food scraps…per day!

7. Use Compost in Your Garden Containers and Beds

Once your compost is ready to use, it’s time to put it to use. Gather it in a pail, bin, or basket, and spread it in the garden with a small trowel. Work it into the soil. If you don’t have space for garden beds, start a container garden. This is a good way to introduce gardening to your children.

10 Links to Help You Teach Kids to Compost

Check out these free online resources for more tips on composting with kids.

  1. Texas A & M Extension – Composting for Kids
  2. Kids Gardening – Gardening Basics – Composting
  3. Environmental Protection Agency – Composting at Home
  4. University Corporation for Atmospheric Research – Kids’ Crossing – Nitrogen Research
  5. Learning to Give – Cool Kids Compost
  6. Meet The Greens- PBS – Izzy’s Kitchen Composting
  7. Gardening Know How – Composting With Kids
  8. QuietHub – Composting for Kids
  9. Homeschool Giveaways – Composting & Work Unit Study
  10. Homegrown Fun – Teach Kids About Composting Video

Do you compost? What’s your best tip? Let us know in the comments below.

Grab Your Free Composting With Kids Printable Pack Here

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This post is part of the Homestead Blog Hop 247!

Composting Ideas For Children: How To Compost With Kids

Kids and composting were meant for each other. When you take part in compost activities for kids, take time to discuss what happens to garbage that isn’t composted. Landfills are filling up at an alarming rate, and waste disposal options are becoming hard to find. You can introduce your kids to the basic principles of taking responsibility for the waste they generate through composting. For children, it will just seem like great fun.

How to Compost with Kids

Children will get more from the experience if they have their own compost container. A garbage can or plastic bin that is at least 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide is large enough to make compost. Drill 20 to 30 large holes in the lid and in the bottom and sides of the container to allow air in and let excess water drain through.

A good compost recipe includes three types of ingredients:

  • Dead plant material from the garden, including dry leaves, twigs and sticks.
  • Household waste, including vegetable scraps, shredded newspaper, tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, etc. Don’t use meat, fat or dairy products or pet waste.
  • A layer of soil adds earthworms and microorganisms that are necessary to break down the other materials.

Add water now and then, and stir the container weekly with a shovel or large stick. Compost can be heavy, so little ones may need help with this.

Composting Ideas for Children

Soda Bottle Composting for Children

Children will enjoy making compost in a two liter soda bottle, and they can use the finished product to grow their own plants.

Rinse out the bottle, screw the top on firmly, and remove the label. Make a flip top in the bottle by cutting most of the way around about a third of the way down the bottle.

Place a layer of soil in the bottom of the bottle. Moisten the soil with water from a spray bottle if it is dry. Add a thin layer of fruit scraps, a thin layer of dirt, a tablespoon of fertilizer, chicken manure or urine, and a layer of leaves. Continue adding layers until the bottle is almost full.

Tape the top of the bottle in place and place it in a sunny location. If moisture condenses on the sides of the bottle, remove the top to let it dry out. If the contents look dry, add a squirt or two of water from a spray bottle.

Roll the bottle around every day to mix the contents. The compost is ready to use when it is brown and crumbly. This takes a month or so.

Worm Composting for Children

Children also enjoy worm composting. Make a “worm farm” out of a plastic bin by drilling several holes in the top, sides and bottom. Make bedding for the worms out of newspaper torn into strips and then soaked in water. Wring it out until it is the consistency of a damp sponge, and then fluff it up to form a layer about 6 inches deep in the bottom of the bin. Mist the bedding with a spray of water if it begins to dry out.

Red wigglers make the best composting worms. Use a pound of worms for a 2-foot square bin, or half a pound for smaller containers. Feed the worms by tucking fruit and vegetable scraps into the bedding. Start with a cup of scraps twice a week. If they have leftovers, cut back on the amount of food. If the food is completely gone, you might try giving them a little more.

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Having a compost pile or bin is a great way to learn and work together as a family. It is of my belief that it is necessary to replenish the Earth of nutrients and that food waste does not belong in the garbage. Composting is a great way to reduce your waste and replenish the Earth to be good stewards of the world we’ve been given. Today, Colleen from Raising Lifelong Learners goes through the ins-and-outs of composting with kids and how to get started even without any sort of elaborate system!

photo credit: Sustainable sanitation via photopin cc
Earth Day is almost here…and it’s finally feeling like spring here in the eastern part of the United States. Yay! I cannot wait to get outside and work with my kids in our yard.

I want them to feel connected to their world, and gardening, planting, pruning, and playing outside all help them relate to the world, and in turn, want to protect the environment. It becomes more about being good stewards of the world they’ve been given, rather than something they should do just so because people say they should.

A few years ago we started a compost pile to show them another way we could reduce and recycle waste. It was great fun, and super easy to do if you have kids.

Compost is a nutrient-rich soil that is created when organic materials like leaves, grass clippings, and food scraps are allowed to decompose naturally. By creating a composting bin in your yard, you’re trapping beneficial microorganisms within the pile of organic material and speeding up the process of decomposition.

You’re left with a dark brown, crumbly soil that smells like a forest floor. It’s amazingly nutritious for your garden and house plants.

photo credit: Sustainable sanitation via photopin cc

Why Compost?

There are many reasons to compost with your kids. Some of the top reasons are:

  • Your organic waste {fruit peels, egg shells, grass clippings, vegetable scraps, etc.} makes up more than 30% of the trash that ends up in our landfills.
  • Your plants will be healthier and hardier if you grow them from soil rich in composted nutrients.
  • When you add moisture to compost-rich soil, it is retained better, again making plants healthier.
  • Compost can allow you to use inferior or sandy soil.
  • Home composting allows you a great opportunity to teach your children about recycling and about the natural cycle of life.
  • It’s fun.

photo credit: net_efekt via photopin cc

Getting Started

So, how do you do it? How do you and your kids build a compost pile in your yard?

  1. Choose a location: Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t really matter if your pile is in a sunny or shady spot. It’s the microorganisms at work that heat your pile up. It should, however, be at least two-feet away from any structures, and in a well-drained spot.
  2. Decide on a pile or bin: Composting doesn’t require any special equipment. You can start a simple pile in your backyard or purchase a special bin for it. A bin keeps it contained and might make the decomposition process go faster. But, either works.
  3. Load it up with materials: Fill your compost bin or pile with about 60% chopped up brown leaves and 40% grass clippings and food scraps. You don’t really need have to chop everything up, but it will speed the process up.
  4. Add water: As you build your pile, water from time to time. The microbes need moisture to survive – but not too much. Tell your child that you need to keep it as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
  5. Turn your pile: Once a day, use a shovel or pitchfork to turn your pile, breaking up clumps and infusing oxygen into the material so your microorganisms thrive. You’ll keep your compost healthier and it will work faster.

Are you ready to start your own compost pile? Your kids will learn a lot, and your garden will thank you.

About Colleen

Colleen is a former teacher of gifted children who prayed for nice, average children. Since God has a sense of humor, she now stays at home to homeschool her highly gifted kids, trying desperately to stay one step ahead of them while writing about their adventures {and messes} at Raising Lifelong Learners.

Buy Colleen’s book, (affiliate link) Hands-on Ecology: Real-Life Activities for Kids to get more great Earth Day ideas from her and to teach them practical ways to conserve and be better stewards of their environment.

Find more inspirational and educational posts from the Ultimate Earth Day Guide. And click the links below for other posts that might interest you.

Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!

Worm Composting for Kids

How to Teach Children to Vermicompost Using Earthworms


Kids love worms! In this article you will learn all about worm composting for kids. You will also learn how to teach your kids to vermicompost (worm compost) using earthworms. Worm composting (Vermicomposting) is a form of composting in which you feed your vegetable food scraps to a specific type of earthworm called red wigglers (scientific name: Eisenia Fetida).

Kids and Worms – Why teach your kids about worm composting?

Because kids love worms! Teaching worm composting to kids is also a great way to teach: life cycles, biology, conservation, and many other sciences. Worm composting with your kids can also dovetail nicely with Gardening with your Kids.

Worm Composting for Kids – Setting up a worm farm (vermicompost bin) that children will care for

  • Always follow sound worm composting principles.

    Small clear plastic worm bin for kids

  • Consider using a smaller plastic bin or tub. Using a shoe box size tub as your worm composting bin will be easier for kids to handle and move around.
  • Use a clear plastic container so that kids can see into their worm compost bin.
  • Have a “parent” worm farm as well. It is a good idea to also have a larger worm composting bin in your house in case something happens to your kid’s worm farm. You can easily replenish the worm population if you need to.

Worm Composting in the Classroom

Worm Composting in the Classroom

Because red wiggler composting worms do very well indoors, a worm composting bin is a great educational addition to a classroom. Teachers can use it as an Earth sciences teaching tool while also composting veggie food scraps from snack time or from the cafeteria. The worms will be fine over the weekend, no need to come in and check on them, just be sure to take them home over the summer!

Worm Composting Activities for Kids – Try these mini experiments to get your children hooked on worm composting

Using Worm Compost on Baby Lettuce

  • Identify an adult worm, a baby worm, and an egg.
  • Do a “what do red worms like to eat more?” experiment. Place two foods in the bin and see what they eat first.
  • Conduct a worm head count or worm census. Pull out ¼ of the bedding in your vermiculture bin and count each earthworm that you find. Then multiply by four to estimate how many worms you have total. Do this a couple times a year to see how the population changes.
  • Worm Stats! Measure the length and weight of one worm
  • Time them to see how fast they eat. Add some type of veggie food waste and then see how long it takes your worms to consume it. Do this experiment again after your worm population changes.
  • Use the worm compost (worm poop!) to grow some vegetables in a garden. Use vermicompost on some plants and none on others to see the difference it makes.

Vermiculture a.k.a “Worm” culture

Wriggly Workers …setting up a worm bin

Wriggly worms may be tiny but they are mighty contributors to the biological processes that are essential in nature. For millions of years, worms have been hard at work breaking down organic materials and returning nutrients to the soil. Worm composting is a fun way of recycling food scraps and other organic material.

Many elementary schools have been successfully composting with worms over the past few years. Fall is a great time to begin worm composting as it will take about six months to get your first harvest. With all the “how to” information available these days on the Internet, worm composting is easier than ever to do in the classroom or at home. The set up costs are relatively low but if you don’t have the time or interest in building your own box, there are many systems available for purchase too.

The key is to involve the kids in the ongoing recycling of the food scraps, reducing what goes into the trash or disposal, and ultimately harvesting the compost. You will be surprised at how having a worm bin at home can actually encourage you to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, just so the “worms get some!” Just remember to keep the kids involved, hands-on, with the bin to sustain their interest. Talk to them about what they’re observing as the bin starts to change and the worms transform the “garbage” into something that is useful again.

Teachers find a variety of multidisciplinary ways to use a worm bin in the classroom. Some may use it for 4th grade science to understand decomposition. Each year at Concordia Elementary School students build a new class bin and paint it to personalize for their own classroom (photo on right). If the school has its own garden, harvesting the compost is an excellent way to demonstrate the use of the “compost” for the benefit of their plants.

To learn more about setting up your own worm bin, building the box, lesson plans and teaching resources, enjoy these wonderful resources:

Earth day activity for kids: How to make a worm bin

Let’s face it: kids like worms and other gross creatures. This is a great Earth Day activity for kids to do with your au pair because it lets them play with worms and make dirt! It’s great for your family because it reduces your waste and creates free compost to make your garden or indoor plants thrive.
Vermicomposting, or worm composting, makes it easy to recycle your food waste and make compost to use in your vegetable garden. Worms can eat half their weight in food scraps each day!
Worm bin basics
Use the redworm Eisenia Fetida (red wiggler), not the commonly found “earthworm” from your garden. Redworms are readily available from a friend’s compost pile, a local fish bait supplier (you’ll need to be specific about the species you need), or online.
Setting up the worm bin
A bin, worm bedding, water, and food scraps are all you’ll need to add. Place the worm bin where the temperatures will range from 50 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep it away from heat sources (radiators) and cold drafts (doors and windows). A cool dark spot is optimum.
What kind of bin
You can use a plastic storage bin, wooden crate, old cooler, or a store bought version. The important thing is that it is the right size and allows for air circulation. To prevent compaction and increased toxicity of your bin, make sure the bin is no taller than 15 inches. Here is a guide to see what size bin you need:

Number of people Quantity of worms Bin size
1 or 2 1lb. 15″ h x 1.5′ w x 2′ l
2 or 3 1lb. 15″ h x 2′ w x 2′ l
4 to 6 2-3lbs. 15″ h x 2′ w x 3.5′ l

Worm bedding
Worm bedding helps keep the worms moist and allows food scraps to be buried to prevent odors. Shredded black and white newspaper works well for “grit” to help the worms digest and is an additional way to recycle. You can also add coir bricks, which are made from ground up coconut husks.
Moisture
Worms need moisture, not a flood. Worms are 75-90 percent water. Because they breathe through their skin, it is important that the worms stay moist. After shredding the bedding, add water and check for moisture: squeezing a handful of bedding should produce a few drops of water. If it is too wet, add more dry bedding.
Food:
Worms need a balanced diet, just like you and me. Here is a list of what they like and don’t like.
Food scrap container tips:
1. Cover the food with the bedding to prevent odors and fruit flies from invading your bin.
2. Store food scraps in a sealed container (to avoid odors). Add small amounts of scraps initially to the worm bin. As the worm population grows, a larger amount of scraps can be added periodically.
3. Chop or tear the food scraps before adding them to the bin. The more you break it down for them, the faster they will work!
Worm food rotation
You can feed the worms in a rotating pattern, burying the food in a different spot each day.
Two ways to harvest your compost
1. Harvest the compost by placing the worm bin contents on a plastic sheet. A bright light placed overhead will cause the worms to crawl to the bottom of the pile. You can scoop off the compost from the top of the pile while the worms hide from the light.
2. Move the contents of the bin to one side and add fresh bedding and food to the other side. A bright light focused on the side with the worms will encourage the worms to crawl to the other side. When the worms move into the new bedding, you can remove the finished compost.
Worm compost uses
Potting mix: Mix together 1/4 part worm compost, which adds nutrients, 1/4 part s sphagnum moss, which holds moisture, 1/4 part perlite which increases aeration, and 1/4 part sand or soil which adds body.
Container plants: Spread worm compost up to 1/4 inch deep on the top of container plant soil.
Seedling transplant: Sprinkle worm compost in the seed row or the hole where the garden plant is transplanted.
Compost Tea: Dissolve worm castings in water (with or without aeration) and use to water plants or as foliar spray
Thanks to Francey Slater and Lydia Sisson of Mill City Grows in Lowell, MA for this great DIY Earth Day activity for kids and the whole family.

Activities to Teach Composting for Kids

If you’d like to introduce your kids to composting for your family’s own nutrient-rich soil, now is the perfect time to get started. A true lesson in patience, composting leftover kitchen scraps, newspapers, and yard trimmings can benefit your whole family in many ways—especially your kids.

Bring science to life with a few games and activities focused on composting for kids as the leaves drop. Here’s how to get started.

Jump Right in

First, make a huge pile of leaves and spend some time jumping in it together. This won’t benefit your compost formula, but it’ll do your heart good. Playing in leaves is the best part of fall for kids (and grownups, honestly) and can teach everyone how nature’s gifts serve multiple purposes.

After you’ve played, collect leaves for the first lesson in composting for kids.

Craft a Soil-arium

The best composting activity for kids is to do some actual composting! This activity is perfect because kids can watch decomposition with their own eyes. The results are equally rich, and an extra benefit is lifelong knowledge for your young soil-ologists.

First, gather your supplies:

  • A wide-mouth glass jar for each child
  • Organic yard debris (such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, and dirt)
  • Old newspaper
  • Fruit and vegetable peels, cores, and scraps from the kitchen
  • 1 cup rainwater
  • A permanent marker

To get started, have kids toss a handful of soil into their respective jars. Next, let them put in a bit of newspaper and then add kitchen scraps. Finally, add a layer of dead leaves and grass clippings. Repeat these deposits until each jar is mostly full.

If your kids feel the need to express themselves by including more newspaper or going easy on the fruit scraps, let them, as long as you keep one control mixture to monitor as a standard.

Finally, add your rainwater and cap the whole concoction. Write each participant’s name upon his or her lid, and poke holes in the lid for oxygen. Draw a fill line on the glass to indicate the top of the jumbled ingredients. Lastly, set your composting experiments on a sunny windowsill within view but out of reach.

Every two weeks, mark a line to show the “new” top as nature does her work and the contents settle. Be sure to label it with the date, too, so you can watch the progress of your microbes.

Before your very eyes, your organic matter will turn into a nutrient-rich soil that in about 12 weeks will be ready for your springtime garden. Every time I’ve done this project with my kids, I’ve seen worms thriving in our jars—a benefit even I couldn’t have predicted!

Role-Playing

Another fun game that teaches composting for kids is role-play. We start by checking out books from the library that focus on microbes, and we read one every day. Our favorite book for this game is called Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes.

Then whenever the kids feel up to it, we act out the narrative (yes, even single-celled characters can have personalities and adventures!), using household items.

Anything can be a prop here. The kids use my bendy curlers as life-sized actinomycetes, which save the day as “good bacteria” in the soil.

Online Gaming

Even screen-oriented kids can still learn about composting in all its rotting, festering goodness. The University of Manchester has an interactive website dedicated to the science of composting microbes to challenge and entertain kids of all ages.

The games are addictive, however, and you may find yourself cheering on the fungi for hours on end.

How do you take advantage of the falling leaves to teach your kids about the circle of life? What other games are fun for fall composting? When you find a good book about composting, share it with other readers by tweeting your favorite to @TomsofMaine.

Image source: Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Activity 1: The Rubbish Feast

This activity is aimed at giving kids an understanding of what happens to our rubbish once it leaves our kitchens and lunch boxes. It also teaches kids how to identify biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste and how we can put our biodegradable waste to work in our compost bins.

Useful dialogue to introduce activity

Where does our rubbish go? We put it in the bin. What happens next? Where does it go? Rubbish that we throw away gets taken to a big rubbish dump (which we call landfill). What happens then? Some of the rubbish decomposes (becomes rotten, breaks down and eventually ‘disappears’). This rubbish is biodegradable. Other rubbish doesn’t decompose (which means it stays at the rubbish dump forever). This is non-biodegradable.

Even though biodegradable rubbish will eventually disappear in landfill, it causes greenhouse gases (methane) as it decomposes, which is bad for our environment and pollutes the earth’s atmosphere.

If we reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill, we can reduce the impact we have on our environment.

What ways can we reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill? We can re-use it or recycle it. Some non-biodegradable material (glass, metal and plastic) is recyclable, which is why we put in the recycling bin to be used again in the future. This means it doesn’t get stuck in landfill forever.

What can we do with our biodegradable rubbish? Food scraps can be composted. This means recycling it in a way that doesn’t produce greenhouse gases. It can then be used as a fertiliser to grow new food and plants.

Activity

Ask your kid to collect the rubbish they create from the food their family eats over one full day (wrappers, containers, tins, leftovers, fruit and vegetable peels).

Help your kid separate the rubbish you have collected into biodegradable and non-biodegradable piles. Discuss which items can be re-used, recycled or composted. What rubbish can’t be reused, recycled or composted? This is the rubbish that will go to landfill. Ask them whether there is a way that you could reduce your rubbish in future by choosing items that can be re-used, recycled or composted? Eg, drink bottle rather than juice box; lunch box rather than plastic bag.

Getting Dirty: Five Fun Composting Projects for Kids

By Chris Sabbarese
Published July 15, 2013

Did you grow up being told not to play in the dirt?

Have you told your kids the same thing?

It’s time to break the rules!

If you’re looking for a fun activity to get your kids outdoors, try getting dirty making fresh organic compost.

This article will show you five fun composting projects you can do with your kids.

The Dirt on Compost

Composting is very simple, costs virtually nothing and is one of the easiest outdoor family activities you can do.

Here’s some quick information to share with kids about the benefits and how-to’s of composting. I’ve also included a list of things that you can do with your kids to help make composting fun and educational for them.

Key Composting Facts

  • Composting creates a medium for plants that is filled with the nutrients they need to flourish.
  • Compost is made up of things you already have in your home.
  • Composting helps the environment and reduces the trash we send to the landfills.
  • A major win/win/win!

The “behind the scenes” science is what makes composting pretty cool. All organic scraps or wastes break down over time. When nitrogen and carbon wastes are combined, tiny microbes, insects and worms help them to decompose.

What’s left is organic matter, or “humus,” a nutrient-rich medium that plants grow and thrive in. Compost comes from things you throw away every day and it costs nothing.

When you compost, you also reduce your carbon footprint on the Earth and help our fragile environment. To learn more about your family’s footprint, check out The Nature Conservancy for this easy interactive calculator.

Calculate your family’s carbon footprint online for free.

What You Need to Make Compost

There are many great reasons to compost. It’s easy and the materials are readily available around everyone’s home.

Collecting young weeds for compost greens.

1. Greens (Nitrogen): Collect produce scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, aquarium water (freshwater) and weeds that have not seeded.

2. Browns (Carbon): Add dried leaves, paper towel/toilet paper rolls, newspaper, cardboard, paper egg cartons and sawdust. Tip: The smaller the pieces, the faster they break down.

General rule of thumb. Maintain a 50/50 balance of browns and greens and you will be well on your way to achieving compost! There is plenty of research and information on ratio balance. Compost will happen regardless, so there is no need to do any complicated math.

3. Water: Without moisture, your compost pile will become too dry for the microbes and insects to do their thing. There should be a source of water nearby to keep the compost moist.

Kids dig compost.

4. Air: Proper airflow will aid in the composting process. For larger compost piles, it’s best to stir it occasionally, exposing the inner layers to the outside air.

Make Composting a Family Affair

Now we get down to the dirty, fun part! Let me show you how my family shares in the joys of composting.

To help teach the kids about reusing and recycling much of the waste we produce, I make sure to involve them in every step of the process. They are thrilled to head out to our garden to do projects.

Here’s a list of 5 cool composting projects you can all do together.

#1: Make a Compost Bin

There are many solutions available for making a compost bin. You can use whatever you have on hand: discarded wooden pallets, cinderblocks, trash cans or even a plain old pile. Any these will work. For other great ideas, check out Organic Gardening and search for “compost.”

For this project, I will teach you to make a bin from wire garden fencing material. It’s an easy weekend project that’s fun for you and the kids. I used some that I had left over from last year’s garden, but you can buy some very inexpensively (under $20).

What You Need to Make Your Bin

  • Wire garden fencing (36”x36” or 91×91 cm) available in most retail hardware stores and garden centers
  • Wire cutters
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses

Step 1: Wear safety glasses and gloves to unroll the fencing. Kids can help by holding it in place. Cut a 36” (91 cm) section, leaving enough wire to secure the bin together.

Helping hands.

Step 2: Roll the section into a cylinder (cut edge to uncut edge). Bend the wires on the end you cut around the edges of the uncut side.

Fastening your compost bin.

Step 3: Put into place and start adding waste to your compost bin.

Finished wire fence compost bin.

#2: “Seek and Find” Compost Game

A great way to make composting fun for kids is to turn it into a game. We play this at home and the kids love it!

Step 1: Review the list of compostable materials, the browns and the greens they need to find. If you need a quick reference on what materials to use and what not to use, check out this handy guide (PDF) published by the EPA.

Tip: Create flash cards with pictures of what to look for. I’ve found this to be a very helpful visual.

Compost flash cards.

Step 2: Create a chart with each family member’s name, with check boxes and dates for finding browns and greens.

Seek and Find chart on a tablet.

It’s an easy way to track your 50/50 balance. If you see that they are collecting more greens, ask them to look for browns to even out your compost mix.

Step 3: Seek and find compostable waste! Give each kid an empty pail or sealable plastic bag (it can get messy!). Spend 20 minutes walking around the house—inside and outside—to look for materials to compost.

Step 4: Award prizes. At my house, each item the kids find is worth 1 minute of “screen time” on their electronic devices.

There are so many cool things about this game. Kids will go looking for materials everywhere…even outside! And they will do whatever it takes to win, like raking up leaves or grabbing the junk mail and newspapers to shred.

#3: Compost Bug ID

Once you get your compost started, you’ll want to turn it occasionally with a garden fork. This will help get air to the materials on the inside and speed up the decomposing process.

As it begins to break down, you will find all sorts of bugs and crawly things in the pile.

Roly Polies lurking in compost.

Let your kids take pictures of the bugs and look them up online together. It’s a great way to get kids outside to learn about nature. And it feeds their desire to play on the tablet!

#4: Give Your Compost Bin a Makeover

Decomposing waste may not be a focal point in your yard, but it doesn’t have to stick out like a sore thumb. Here are a couple of ideas that you and your kids can do to help dress it up.

Plant seasonal flowers and vines that can grow along the outsides of wire bins and add some visual color to your yard. Trim stray vines to keep it looking tidy and toss them right into the compost.

Planting sweet pea flowers around the bin.

If you are using wood to support your compost pile, give it a coat of paint and let kids add their touches. Putting their hands in paint and leaving their mark all over the outside is just plain fun for them. It’s also like having kids’ artwork out in the yard too!

#5: Take a Compost Coffee Break

It may sound hard to believe, but composting can be addicting. Once you have seen the fruits of your labor you may just go a little compost crazy. Like me, you’ll always be on the lookout for more waste, wherever you go.

One good source is your local barista.

Many coffee shops will bag up coffee grounds for you for free!

Take your kids with you later in the morning and have them ask the barista for any left-over coffee grounds. Nine times out of ten, it works (as long as someone else doesn’t beat you to it!).

It’s also a great way to spend time out with the kids, get your morning latte and give your compost a mega-shot of nitrogen, all in one trip.

There you have it—5 great ways to get kids interested in compost while having fun and learning in the process!

A Pot of Black Gold

This compost bin project is a great way to introduce your kids and yourself to the fun of composting together.

Depending on the ratio of greens and browns that you’ve added to your pile, this compost project will yield itself in 4-6 months, just by filling your bin. For faster results, you can turn it with a garden fork once or twice a month to shorten the amount of time until you achieve the “black gold.”

You can also look into vermicompost, which opens a big can of worms on another exciting type of compost!

Once your compost is ready, you can use it to plant your favorite flowers, berries and vegetables. They will thrive in the nutrient-rich compost you made, all from items that would have otherwise made their way to the landfill.

Growing a blueberry plant in compost.

Don’t panic if you make more compost than you can use. Just share it with family, friends or neighbors.

Or turn your black gold into a cool gift. Recycle an old pot. Add compost and some bulbs or flower seeds. Wrap it in some burlap with ribbon and you’ll have a great gift for grandparents or teachers.

Some Final Thoughts…

The most important thing about these five composting tips is that they provide a great way to spend time with your family while giving the environment a hand. And it’s pretty awesome to encourage them to get their hands dirty, too! (Shh…don’t tell Mom.)

What do you think? Do you teach your kids about composting? I’d love to see pictures of your composting project. Share what works in your family in the comments below.

Tags: backyard activity, backyard project, carbon footprint, chris sabbarese, compost, compost bin, compost game, compost gift, compost science, compost tracking chart, composting, composting project

A Complete Guide to Composting for Kids

Keen to get your kids into composting?

Great! Composting is fun and is ready for anyone, anywhere. Making compost is appealing to a wide range of ages. Composting is not only great for the environment, it is also an awesome science experiment that can help kids learn more about biology, life cycles, recycling, conservation.

Composting is a natural process of decomposition and recycling of organic material (such as leaves, grass, fruit and vegetable scraps) into a rich soil amendment known as compost. You can teach kids about this circle life and teach them how to complete it. It’s also important to teach kids the basic principles of taking responsibility for the waste they generate through recycling and composting. Making composting for kids a hands-on science experience! For kids, it will just seem like great fun.

In this article, we’re going to guide you through the ins and outs of composting and how to compost with your kids. We hope that this guide can help you, as a parent or teacher, boost your knowledge of the topic so that if the situation ever presents itself and your children ask you a more loaded question, you’ll know just what to say.

Table of Contents

What do Kids Learn Through Composting?

In this electronic age, kids have a lot of things competing for their attention. They need time for the meaningful family connection. Composting is one of the easiest outdoor family activities that helps steer kids away from the television and tablet and engage them in good gardening activity. These activities are fun and enjoyable experiences that help kids promote communication skills and learn a lot of lessons. Here’re some more lessons kids can learn through composting:

Composting raises Kids’ environmental awareness – Composting is a great way to raise kids’ awareness of the environment by teaching them how to reduce waste. Kids learn through direct experience that they can make a difference and have a positive effect on the environment. Composting also helps kids understand the three environmental r’s (recycle, reuse and reduce). Kids learn the difference between compost and what ends up in our landfill. Kids learn what waste can be used for composting. As kids get older, they learn about the impact of the three environmental r’s on the earth. You can turn collecting compostable waste into “seek and find” compost game or involve your kids in the kitchen by teaching them what kind of kitchen scraps to save for composting.

Composting Teaches Kids Science – Although composting is simple (you just put organic matter in a compost pile and wait for it to decompose), it is a wonderful introduction into the world of science especially biology, chemistry, and physics. When kids put their organic materials into the compost pile they become curious about what will happen next. Without even realizing it, kids are learning the basic steps of the scientific process by monitoring the natural process of decomposition and recycling of organic material. Kids learn which organic materials called “Nitrogen materials”, which called “Carbon materials”. Kids learn the importance of bugs and worms and their value to our ecosystem. Kids learn how different materials breakdown by understanding the chemical process and they even learn how temperature works in the decomposition process. Composting offers wonderful science lessons right at home!

Composting Teaches Patience – Patience is virtual, and with composting, it is very important to understand that the process of decomposition can take a while. Kids have to learn to be patient when waiting for their materials to decompose. The waiting actually makes the moment they see their own biodegradable products even more exciting!

Basics of composting

Composting is not a mysterious process. Natural recycling occurs on a continuous basis in the natural environment. In a forest, dead leaves fall forming the mulch that protects the soil. Over time, they decompose into nutrients which are returned to the soil to support plant growth.

Composting is a natural biological process of recycling organic materials such as food waste, leaves into a dark brown, crumbly soil that smells like a forest floor. It’s amazing nutritious for your garden and lawn. In this process, various microorganisms, including fungi, insect, and bacteria, decompose organic solid waste into simpler substances. As these beneficial microorganisms decompose organic waste they produce heat, which is why compost piles often warm and can even be seen steaming in cold weather. Under optimal conditions, a compost pile can heat up to temperatures in the range of 50-65 °C (120-150°F).

Kids conducting composting experiments can use daily temperature readings to compare how quickly the compost heats up, how hot it gets and how long it retains its heat. If you’re a teacher, you can even make this into a competition, for instance, to see whose pile reaches the hottest temperature or stays hot the longest.

If you want your compost to heat up, then some knowledge of the decomposing process is important. Chemistry is important in this natural process because for quick microbial growth, you need to add the right mix of carbon, nitrogen, and water. Physics also plays a role in composting because physical characteristics of the compost ingredients, including particle size and moisture content, affect the rate at which composting occurs.

Why Composting?

There are various reasons to make compost. Save resources, save money, reduce our impact on the environment and improve your soil. While it may take a little time to set up your own composting system, the results will be worth it. After a few months, you get a free natural fertilizer for your plants to keep them looking healthy and beautiful.

Many people often asked, “Why should I worry when my local council does food waste collections- and why do I need to compost when my waste will break down in landfill anyway?”

Here’s why: When our waste is sent to landfill, air cannot get to the organic material. Therefore as the landfill material breaks down it releases methane gas (a greenhouse gas) that contributes to climate change. However, when this same waste is composted at home where it has access to oxygen, it decomposes aerobically and it hardly produces any methane which is good for the Earth’s atmosphere.

A recent research has found that almost half of the food waste in their rubbish bins could have been composted into nutrient-rich soil. It’s even amazing to know that composting at home for just one year can save global warming gases equivalent to all the CO2 your washing machine produces in around three months, or your kettle produces annually.

And what’s more?

Integrating activities like composting into kids’ lives is a great way to help them to spend more time outdoors, connect with their food, and cooperate as a family. Composting may be work on one hand, but it can also be a fun practice. Moreover, composting is a gateway into gardening – and I can’t think of anything more fun!

What To Use To Make Compost? (Ingredients)

Some people mistakenly assume that organic matter thrown in the garbage will break down and feed the soil in the landfill. But throwing kitchen and garden scraps in the garbage means they will be surrounded by garbage and not have the proper compost recipe. Therefore, they cannot become a healthy compost for feeding the soil.

Healthy compost results from a combination of four ingredients: Brown stuff, green stuff, water, and air. You can mix and match the brown and green stuff that listed below until you find a recipe that works best for you. Just note the carbon-to-nitrogen (C/N) ratio as you build your compost pile. We prefer to use carbon and nitrogen at a ratio of three parts Carbon to one part Nitrogen. You can try it with your kids too.

1. Greens – 1 Part

Greens are those with higher nitrogen and are quite wet and heavy. They rot quickly and can get stinky fast unless you balance them out with enough browns.

Nitrogen components consist of:

  • Aquarium water, algae, and plants
  • Dead houseplants
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Green garden debris, such as spent pansies deadheaded flowers and bolted lettuce
  • Vegetative kitchen scraps
  • Chicken manure
  • Horse manure

2. Browns – 2-3 Parts

Browns are those with higher carbon and are dry and bulky. They do not decay rapidly without green compost ingredients because they do not hold enough moisture.

Carbon components consist of:

  • Brown garden debris, such as corn and sunflower stalks, dried legume plants, and dried potato and tomato vines
  • Hedge prunings and twigs
  • Leaves
  • Pine needles

3. Water

Moisture makes the best possible conditions for the microbes to break down the material. After adding the greens and browns, water the compost pile and mix it well. You will need just enough water for the compost to be moist, not wet. In dry months, you need to add water, and in wet months you need to keep the compost pile from the rain.

4. Air

Packing layers of brown and green matters into a compost pile is not going to make compost alone. Air needs to be added by turning the compost with a rolling composter or a fork. The compost pile will become warm as the organisms work to break down the organic materials. The heat in the middle of the compost pile can reach up to 150 °F. Turning the compost every few days to introduce more air and more materials from the edges to the middle.

Add these compost amendments to speed up composting

Some materials are full of beneficial bacteria, fungi, and worms that will speed up the decomposition process. Add just a small portion of one of these materials to really get the party started.

  • Healthy garden soil
  • Mushroom manure
  • Well-rotted manure (not pet waste)
  • Compost Accelerator

What Not to Use?

Generally speaking, you can compost almost anything that is organic and was once living. However, not all organic matter is useful. There are a few items that do not decompose well and will hold up the efficiency of your compost pile. So you will want to keep them out of your compost to avoid a hassle.

For example, we keep cooked foods, meat, fish scraps and dairy’s out of our compost pile. Although these organic matters can be composted, their smell will act like a magnet for any critters and unwanted pests. We also keep large woody branches and cuttings out of our compost pile since they take too long to break down.

Keep these materials out of the compost pile:

  • Diseased plants
  • Dog, cat, pig, and reptile manures
  • Gypsum board scraps
  • Materials from the side of the road, including grass clippings and leaves,
  • Coal Ash
  • Colored Paper
  • Inorganic Materials
  • Meat, Bones, Fish, Fats, Dairy
  • Synthetic Chemicals

Getting started – Composting for Kids

Composting is easy to make, but it isn’t simple as just throwing your garden and kitchen scraps into a compost pile and checking on it a year later. Eventually, those organic materials will break down and create compost, but it is much cleaner, faster and more effective knowing the proper step-by-step guide.

Are you ready to get outside and work with your kids?

Okay, let’s compost!

Step 1 – Choose a compost bin

Bins have the advantage of being neat, preserving heat and keeping animals out. You can build your own compost bin or you can buy a compost bin from many garden centers.

There are many types of bins that you can use to hold organic materials. The size and type of bin you purchase or build will depend on how much organic waste you and your family generate.

Step 2 – Choose your composter location

Choose a site that is sunny and well-drained. Most importantly you should find a site that is easily accessible year round. Place the bin over bare soil rather than paving to ensure that beneficial organisms can make their way into the compost. It’s a good idea to remove any plants and turn the soil to a depth of about 6-8 inches.

Step 3- Making great compost

Collect compostable materials which listed above in containers. You can chop materials into small pieces (the small the better). When they are full, empty their contents into the compost bin.

Where to start?

Place a 4″ to 6″ bottom layer of course material such as twigs, dead plant stalks in your composter in order to allow for drainage and aeration. Cover this layer with leaves. The simple alternate layers of garden waste and kitchen waste in 4″ to 6″ increments. Top off the compost pile with 1″ of healthy garden soil or mushroom manure.

Whenever you add food scraps or garden waste, be sure to top it with a layer of browns (Carbon materials). If you do not add carbon materials, your compost will be wet and can smell like rotten eggs or garbage. If possible, collect and store dead leaves in a garbage in the fall so you can them in your compost pile year round.

There are probably specific ways of maintaining compost depending on the type of compost bin you have chosen. Most of the composters come with instructions inside, follow these instructions for best results.

Step 4 – Add Water

Each layer gets a good sprinkling of water to wet the organic materials. You should wet each layer as you build it. Repeat each of the layers until the bin is full.

Step 5 – Maintain Your Compost Bin

Once you have a full compost bin, mix and turn the compost every 7 days or so to help the breakdown process and eliminate odor. The more you turn the pile the faster you will have finished compost!

Step 6 – Compost is ready

It takes anywhere from 3 months to 12 months to produce your healthy compost. The time it takes can vary widely depending on the materials and methods used.

Finished compost is dark and crumbly in texture and mostly broken down with a pleasant earth-like smell. To remove the compost, scoop it through the trap door on your unit. Pick out any lumps or pieces of unfinished materials and place them back into the compost bin to continue decomposing. However, for most uses, it is acceptable to have some recognizable pieces of straw remaining.

Step 7 – Use your compost

Finished compost can be used for:

  • Use your compost as a top dressing for flower beds.
  • Add to houseplants.
  • Mix compost in with garden soil.
  • Can be spread on your lawn a few times a year.
  • Make compost tea. Fill an old pillowcase or cheesecloth with 1 liter of compost. Tie the top and “steep” the bag overnight in a garbage can filled with water. The compost tea is nutrient rich for watering your plants and garden.

What do I do if my compost smells?

Symptoms Cause Solution
Smells like rotten eggs or garbage. Pile is too wet. Add leaves, straw. Turn compost pile.
Pile is too hot (temp. exceeds 150°F) Insufficient air or insufficient carbon Turn the pile. Add more brown materials.
Compost pile is moist inside but not composting. Not enough greens. Mix in greens. Chop or remove woody material.
Compost pile is dry inside. Too much woody material.
Not enough water.
Pile is too small.
Mix in greens. Turn and moisten pile. Chop or remove excess woody material.
Clumps of slimy grass, ammonia smell. Too much fresh grass. Mix in brown leaves and straw.
Compost pile has shrunk but looks uncomposted. Outside of the compost pile is dry but most of the compost pile is probably composted. Use uncomposted material in next batch.

List of handy tools you may need:

  • Composter
  • Garden gloves for kids
  • Containers
  • Compost Thermometer
  • A fork, or a Compost Aerator
  • Compost starter
  • Indoor pail for kitchen waste
  • Books on composting

Good luck and have fun!

Compost facts for kids

Compost bin Raw materials for composting.

Compost is a type of fertilizer that is made from rotting plants. It is easy and cheap to make, as all it really requires is vegetable waste. The vegetable waste is broken down by bacteria (germs), and made into compost.

Making a compost heap

To make a compost heap, you need some space fairly far from anyone who might have a problem with the smell. The bottom corner of a garden, or some other place a distance from the house is a good place. Compost heaps should also be placed on soil, or grass: a paved yard or concrete are bad places. The compost heap should not be in a dark or closed corner.

The best base for a compost heap is a layer of sand, bricks or gravel about 1m long by 1m wide. This is not needed, but it can be a good idea. If using bricks, leave spaces to allow the air to move through. It also allows for the water to run away. The best compost heaps have lots of little spaces inside, to allow air to move around.

Once the first layer is down, one can begin adding the waste.

Some good types of waste are:

  • Vegetable/fruit peels and scraps
  • Spoiled, rotten or moldy fruit
  • Cut grass
  • Leaves
  • Straw
  • Sawdust
  • Eggshells

Adding meat scraps is a bad idea, as they rot slowly, smell bad and attract rats and other vermin. Human or pet feces is also a very bad idea, as this can transmit disease. Waste from plants that have died of disease is also bad. The disease can spread to the plants that the compost is used with.

When making a compost heap, different types of waste should be layered. A layer of cut grass can be followed by a layer of vegetable waste and table scraps.

Watering the compost heap is a good idea, especially in dry areas. The water helps encourage the waste to rot and turn into compost.

In anywhere from 3 to 6 months, the compost will be ready. The compost is ready when it smells like thick earth, with no smell of decay or rot. Of course, if you have been adding waste all this time, the compost will all be at the bottom of the heap, and will have to be dug out.

The stuff that has not rotted can be used as part of a new compost heap.

Images for kids

  • A community-level composting plant in a rural area in Germany

  • Home compost barrel in the Escuela Barreales, Santa Cruz, Chile

  • Materials in a compost pile

  • Food scraps compost heap

  • A homemade compost tumbler

  • A modern compost bin constructed from plastics

  • Rotary screen harvested worm castings

  • Food waste – after three years

  • An almost completed Hügelkultur bed; the bed does not have soil on it yet.

  • Inside a recently started bokashi bin. The aerated base is just visible through the food scraps and bokashi bran.

  • A large compost pile that is steaming with the heat generated by thermophilic microorganisms.

  • Compost Basket

Get Composting

65% of the Caerphilly county borough reuse, recycle or

compost their waste towards the end of 2016.

What is compost?

Compost forms as a result of the natural breakdown of organic
material into fine particles by bacteria, fungi, insects and animals
which live in soil.

As these organisms break down waste they generate heat, which is
why compost heaps often feel warm and can sometimes even be seen steaming in cold weather.

This is an effective way of disposing waste instead of throwing the waste in the landfil sites.

What to use to make compost

You can use a whole range of things to make compost:

  • Garden waste including leaves, grass cuttings, old flowers
  • Egg shells
  • Fruit & vegetable peelings
  • Tea bags
  • Bedding from vegetation pets including rabbits and guinea pigs
  • Shredded paper and cardboard including cereal and egg boxes

Do not add any of the following to your compost heap as they will either not break down properly, or may be unhygienic or attractive to pests.

  • Cooked foods
  • Meat, fish or dairy products
  • Ash from coal fires
  • Dog or cat poo
  • Nappies or used tissues

Why compost?

The average person throws away seven times their own body weight in waste every year. About 25% of the contents of your bin is kitchen and garden waste. These are organic materials that end up in landfill sites where they cause polluting gases and affect our communities.

Composting is a natural method of both waste disposal and soil fertilisation. Once made, compost can be used to fertilise soil and give it a better structure and moisture retaining properties. It can also be used as mulch in order to reduce the growth of weeds.

Organic materials in landfill are a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more active than CFC’s in causing global warming, and also of a black liquid called ‘leachate,’ which can contaminate water supplies.

Because it is an alternative to peat, the use of compost can also help to prevent damage to the peat bogs, which are vitally important homes for a wide range of wildlife.

Where to compost

For those good with their hands, compost bins can be built from scrap timber, old tyres, bricks or wire mesh.

COMPOST AT SCHOOL: All schools in the county borough are entitled to a free compost bin with a ‘how to use’ handbook. This can be used to recycle items such as fruit, vegetable peelings, grass, paper and small amounts of cardboard (but not cooked food). Additional compost bins can be purchased at a subsidised price of £10 each. Ask your teachers at school about composting!

COMPOST AT HOME: Caerphilly Council offer our residents the opportunity to purchase home composting bins at a reduced price of £10. If you would like to compost at home ask your parent or guardian to come along to any of our cash offices to pay the £10. You will be given a receipt by the cashier which you will need to take along to the official collection point at Blackwood Garden Centre, Blackwood, NP12 0PJ (rear of Blackwood RFC).

How to make compost

Add the compost ingredients to the compost bin or heap, mixing the different types of materials together with a garden fork as you do so.

Compost usually takes between 3 and 9 months to make, although it can take longer than this, especially in cold weather.

The best place to site a compost bin is in a sunny, well-drained area, out of the wind. Put your composter in the garden on bare soil and not on paving or decking.

Your compost is ready when it is dark in colour and has an earthy smell. When the compost appears to be ready, take some from the bottom of the pile, put it on your garden and watch those plants grow!

That banana peel in the waste bin will eventually, naturally decompose, as will all organic waste, thanks to helpful microorganisms in the environment that feed on the decaying detritus.

Composting is a process that works to speed up the natural decay of organic material by providing the ideal conditions for detritus-eating organisms to thrive, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The end-product of this concentrated decomposition process is nutrient-rich soil that can help crops, garden plants and trees to grow.

The composting process

Microorganisms are vital to the composting process and are found everywhere in the environment, said Matthew Worsham, the sustainability and energy coordinator at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

The key to effective composting is to create an ideal environment for the microorganisms to thrive, Worsham told Live Science — warm temperatures, nutrients, moisture and plenty of oxygen.

According to Cornell University, there are three main stages in the composting cycle in which different types of microorganisms thrive.

The first stage is typically only a couple of days long during which mesophilic microorganisms, or microorganisms that thrive in temperatures of about 68 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 45 degrees Celsius), begin physically breaking down the biodegradable compounds. Heat is a natural byproduct of this initial process and temperatures quickly rise to over 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).

Mesophilic microorganisms are replaced by thermophilic microorganisms (microorganisms that thrive in the increased temperatures) during the second stage, which can last from a few days to several months. The thermophilic microbes work to break down the organic materials into finer pieces. The higher temperatures are more conducive to breaking down proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates.

Also, during the second stage, temperatures continue to rise and if not closely watched, the compost pile can get so hot that it can eventually kill off all the helpful microorganisms. Techniques such as aeration and turning over the compost pile help keep temperatures below about 149 degrees F (65 degrees C), as well as provide additional oxygen and new sources for the thermophilic microorganisms to break down.

The third stage, which typically lasts for several months, begins when the thermophilic microorganisms use up the available supply of the compounds. At this stage, temperatures begin to drop enough for mesophilic microorganisms to resume control of the compost pile and finish breaking down the remaining organic matter into usable humus.

The organisms that help

There are two main classes of composting microorganisms, known as aerobes and anaerobes, according to Planet Natural.

The aerobes are bacteria that require oxygen levels of at least 5 percent to survive and are the most important and efficient composting microorganisms, according to the University of Illinois. The aerobes consume the organic waste and excrete chemicals such as nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium, which are nutrients plants need to thrive.

Anaerobic microorganisms are bacteria that don’t require oxygen. They also don’t process the organic waste as efficiently as aerobic bacteria. Anaeorbs produce chemicals that are occasionally toxic to plants, and they cause composting piles to stink because they release hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs.

About 80 to 90 percent of all microorganisms found in compost piles are bacteria, according to Cornell University. The remaining percentage of microorganisms are species of fungi, including molds and yeasts.

In addition to microorganisms, other helpful creatures, such as pill bugs, centipedes and worms, will find their way to the composting pile if the conditions are right. These animals break down the food waste, yard trimmings and other organics in the compost pile and help turn the waste material into nutrient-rich soil.

Worsham is building composting resources at the University of Dayton and is including red wiggler worms in the composting piles. Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are the most common worm used in vermicomposting, or composting with worms, Worsham said. The university’s vermicomposting piles can break down 10 pounds of food waste and paper per day.

What does and doesn’t go in?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a balance of “greens” and “browns” is needed to create the proper environment for composting to occur. Greens are nitrogen-rich, and include items such as grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, and coffee grounds. Browns are the carbon-rich yard clippings, such as dead leaves, branches and twigs.

A carbon-to-nitrogen ratio between 25 to 1 and 30 to 1 is ideal for rapid composting, according to the University of Illinois. Microorganisms feed on both carbon and nitrogen. The carbon gives the microorganisms energy, much of which is released as carbon dioxide and heat, and the nitrogen provides additional nutrition to continue growing and reproducing.

If there is too much carbon in the compost pile, decomposition occurs at a much slower rate as less heat is generated due to the microorganisms not being able to grow and reproduce as readily, and therefore not able to break down the carbon as readily. On the other hand, an excess of nitrogen can lead to an off-putting ammonia smell and can increase the acidity of the compost pile, which can be toxic for some species of microorganisms.

Proper moisture is also vital for the health of the microorganisms that help with the composting process. A moisture content between 40 and 60 percent provides enough dampness to prevent the microorganisms from becoming dormant but not enough so that oxygen is forced out of the pile.

The amount of oxygen within the compost pile is also important as an oxygen deficit leads to anaerobic microorganisms taking over, and that can lead to a stinky compost pile. Oxygen can be added into the compost pile by stirring or turning over the pile.

What to compost:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • Shredded newspaper, paper and cardboard
  • Yard trimmings including grass, leaves, branches, and twigs
  • Houseplants
  • Hay and straw
  • Sawdust
  • Woodchips
  • Cotton and wool rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Hair and fur
  • Fireplace ashes

(Note: The USDA recommends burying food waste if using an open-composting pile to deter unwanted pests looking for a free meal, such as flies, rodents and raccoons.)

What not to compost:

  • Certain types of tree leaves and twigs such as black walnut, as it releases substances that may be harmful to plants
  • Coal or coal ash, as they might contain substances that are harmful to plants
  • Dairy products, eggs, fats and oils, and meat or fish bones and scraps, due to potential odor problems that attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-infested plants, as the disease or insects may survive and be passed along to other plants
  • Pet waste (including dog and cat feces and used cat litter), as it might contain harmful parasites, bacteria or viruses
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides; as the pesticides might kill composting organisms

Commercial composting companies also collect products such as paper carry-out containers for food and compostable dinnerware and flatware that are specifically labeled BPI Certified Compostable.

Dairy products, eggs, meat products and fats are typically not recommended for the composting pile, but there are many larger commercial composting facilities that are well-suited for dealing with the smells and pathogens that may exist in these products.

To help with the more complex waste, livestock manure is often added to commercial composting sites to help increase the heat and the rate of composting. According to North Dakota State University, livestock manure from herbivores, including cows, sheep and goats, already contains a high amount of nitrogen and many of the aerobic microorganisms that are essential to composting. This type of manure is also typically free of dangerous pathogens that can be found in the manure of meat-eating animals, such as cats and dogs.

Composting helps accelerate the natural decomposition process of organic materials. Credit:

What else can be composted?

Many companies are developing more products that can be composted when disposed of, including dinner and flatware, garbage bags and even diapers. Before putting these items in the compost pile, it is important to make sure they are safe to compost at home or accepted by the local compost collector.

Huantian Cao, professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware, co-directs a sustainable apparel project that’s working on developing compostable apparel. Cao and his team have developed a shoe that is essentially made of mushrooms.

The prototype sandal is made from a variety of compostable parts, Cao told Live Science. The midsole is made from a mushroom mycelium composite that can go right into a home composter along with all the food scraps. The insole and outsole of the shoe are made with biodegradable vegetable-tanned leather and the straps of the sandal are made with cotton, both of which can be composted at larger, commercial composting sites.

Composting at home

Randi Cox and Kathy Gutowsky, owners of the commercial composting company, Green Camino, have been composting since they were young and now educate their community about the benefits of composting, whether through use of their company or at home.

“Composting is an entryway drug to zero waste,” Gutowsky said. “As you start composting, you are really starting to pay attention to what you are throwing away and you start to look at what you are buying and what is coming in.”

Gutowsky said that many of their clients make lifestyle changes to minimize what goes in their waste bins, including not buying products with excess plastic packaging and buying locally when possible. “It’s really a mindset shift,” Gutowsky told Live Science.

If you don’t have access to a commercial composting site, getting started at home is as easy as putting together a pile in the corner of your yard. Many hardware stores sell composting bins of various types and sizes to accommodate each home’s need. Be sure to check regulations on composting where you live by visiting your city or county waste department web page. Additional help getting started or any questions you may have can often be answered at your local hardware store, nursery or local farmer’s markets.

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