The Learning Climate: Using Rubbish In Education

Have you ever thought about the amount of waste you generate in your daily activities? Or have you ever wondered if that material you discarded could still be used for something else? Food waste, coffee grounds and tea bags, soiled paper, and yard trimmings and used napkins are a great example of useful “waste”. These materials can be composted to produce valuable soil amendments that can be used in gardens, agriculture, soil restoration, and erosion and sediment control. However, even being known as a still valuable resource, food waste represents the largest percentage of waste going to landfills (21% of the discarded material in 2013, according to EPA).

Understanding the importance of recovering and using this material, as well as the educational potential of that practice, some schools have developed ‘composting in school’ programs. These programs show students that things that they would usually through in the trash bin can help to grow new food; they can change the view of waste as something “out of sight out of mind” since students are in direct contact with it and become aware that it does not simply disappears when taken from curbside bins. Composting in schools is a growing trend among environmental educators and can be found in cities like Cleveland, O.H., Eugene and Lane County, O.R., and Baltimore, M.D. – where a pilot project implemented in elementary and middle schools was responsible for diverting 34,525 pounds of waste from landfills and incinerators.

The benefits of school composting programs are both environmental – it reduces the need of using chemical fertilizers and extends municipal landfill life, avoiding methane and leachate generation in those sites – and social – as it educates future citizens about environmental issues and makes this practice part of their routine and their culture, just like recycling. On-site composting is even more positive to the environment due the lack of need to transport the waste to a composting facility, which would consume fuel and emit greenhouse gases.

Combining composting with a school garden could be a way of applying the compost generated on-site to produce organic vegetables that could be used to prepare students’ meals. Having more green spaces in school would also be favorable for kid’s cognitive development. School composting projects can vary widely. The ideal would be having the entire school community engaged in the project; however every effort to divert waste from landfills counts.

Did you like the idea and are interested in developing a project like this in your school? Take a look at this guide and get ready to see waste in a whole new way!

Maria Isabel da Matta, Intern