Food Waste Reduction & Composting

According to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, getting food from “farm to our fork” eats up 10% of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50% of U.S. land, and swallows 80% of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40% of food in the U.S. today goes uneaten. Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year and that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane gas emissions.  So what can schools do about this? 

Every school day each student generates about two pounds or more of compostable materials. Combining food waste reduction strategies and composting efforts can help schools significantly reduce waste. Composting takes things a step beyond “reduce, reuse, recycle”: Students can do more than sending items off for recycling; they can see the entire cycle of natural conversion from “yucky” food scraps to a material that is beneficial and usable. They learn through direct experience that they can make a difference and have a positive effect on the environment. In addition, measureable food waste reduction and composting are rich topics for investigation and discovery across the curriculum.

Tip: Also visit our National & State Green School Programs page to learn more about local and national Green School programs and resources to help you improve the health & sustainability of your school!

Before You Start

Form an Action Team

Center for Green Schools: Recycling & Waste Management Video (9mins)

Center for Green Schools: Recycling & Waste Management Companion Guide

Review: Getting Started - Which Can Do I Put This In?

Design and Preparation

Conduct a General Environmental Review Checklist

Preliminary Recycling & Waste Management Questions to Consider

Conduct a Consumption & Waste Audit

View a Model Program: Montgomery Co. School Energy & Recycling Team (SERT)

Successful Examples: School Composting Programs (NERC)


Waste Reduction Action Plan (review options & develop an action plan):

  • Implement a School Food Service Waste Reduction Program
  • Implement an EPA "Food: Too Good to Waste" Campaign (toolkit)
  • School Composting Options
  • Start a School Composting Program
  • Vermi-Composting: Start a Classroom Worm Bin
  • Build a Composting Bin or System: Designs
  • Build a Two-Can Bioreactor
  • Build a Soda Bottle Bio-Reactor
  • Also See: Waste Free Snacks & Lunches
  • Using Your Project

    LifeLab: Ultimate School Composting Resource Page

    LifeLab: Composting Lessons & Videos

    Student Compost Research Projects

    Elementary School Worm Bin Cross-Curricular Connections

    EPA Planet Protectors Activities for Kids: Waste Reduction & Recycling

    Design a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Science Fair Project

    Participate in the Waste Reduction Challenge

    Join EPA's WasteWise Program

    Eco Schools K-12 Resources for Educators

    Eco School National Standards & Curriculum Alignment

    EPA Lesson Plans on Waste

    Waste Reduction Curriculum & Activities (Green Education Foundation)

    Project Leaning Tree Solid Waste Curriculum

    (K-12) Books on Waste Reduction & Recycling (Green Education Foundation)

    Green Education Foundation: Sustainability Lesson Clearinghouse

    Learning Lab Sustainability Lessons

    Project Learning Tree Curriculum Offerings

    Eco Schools Green STEM Initiative

    Sharing Your Project

    Teachers: Start a Planet Protectors Club (EPA)

    Create Signs About Recycling & Waste Reduction

    Make Signs & Host a Celebration

    Send Home Tips & Tools for Parents!

    Tips to Reduce Food Waste at Home

    Resource Center

    Project Resource Library: Learn More!
    The Worm Guide: Vermi-Composting Guide for Teachers
    National & State Green School Programs
    Bay Backpack Teaching Resources Search Engine
    EPA Learning & Teaching About the Environment (awards, resources, more)