From Root To S.T.E.M.: Learning Through Classroom Composting

Updated: Mar 8, 2021


Before we start, we’ve got some freaky stats for you:

food-waste management, S.T.E.M., zero-waste, food recycling, classroom composting

Every year, an individual elementary-age student throws away an average of 45 kilograms of food waste. Let’s call this student Steve. In high school, Steve will go on to throw away 22 kilograms of food waste per year. Cumulatively, Steve will generate over 400 kilograms of food waste over his school career - not including his university years. Now, multiply Steve and his terrible waste habits by 503 (which is the average student body in North American public schools.) We’ll let you do the math. But suffice it to say, that is A LOT of half-eaten PB&J’s. Setting the enormous levels of waste aside, composting is intrinsic to our societal and ecological well-being. Our ability to transform waste into something valuable for our planet is like a sustainability report card: the higher the grade, the longer our planet can provide the resources we require to survive. And, just like anything else, the skills that build a strong, sustainable society begin in the classroom. As any teacher will tell you, a strong foundation is often the determinant of future success.


COMPOSTING AS AN AID IN STEM DEVELOPMENT

The benefits of a school or even class-wide composting system are variable. Some of these benefits can be measured by grade point averages (yes, really), while others can only be measured in a more holistic setting (the child’s well-being, classroom cohesion, positive outlook, etc).

“A growing body of research (...) demonstrates that environmentally sustainable schools can improve students’ academic experience. Green schools have been shown to strengthen academic achievement using a variety of measures, including traditional, standardized test scores.”

-The Benefits of Green Schools, Paul Chapman



Science

A large component of STEM education is understanding the interdependent connections between organisms, their various life systems, and how each interacts and effects the ecology to which they belong. To put it simply: composting helps kids understand the breakdown of life cycles. Example: An apple grows on the tree, is picked, eaten, and then decomposes, and - if all goes to plan - breaks down in the soil, releasing crucial nutrients back into the soil from which it grew and nourishing the various life forms that burrow there. Composting projects, or an ecologically-based curriculum, will also develop various scientific education skills. For example, performing a waste audit on your school’s trash collection will develop the students’ abilities in data collection through observationscientific methodology, proving or disproving hypothesescataloging and prioritizing information. Projects which evaluate the various ways in which food breaks down, including the difference between composting (aerobic digestion) and tossing organic waste into landfills (anaerobic digestion) will req