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What's Up in the Environment?
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Class Projects   Recycling by Composting


Students are probably already aware that disposing of America's trash is a major environmental problem. As landfills around the country grow and reach capacity, recycling becomes increasingly important. Your class may be surprised to find out that about 30 percent of the trash produced in the U.S. is composed of organic yard and food waste. Composting these materials would not only reduce the burden on landfills, but the resulting compost could be used to improve soil quality, stem erosion, and aid plant development.

In this project, students will investigate the amount of food and yard waste produced in your local area. They will perform an experiment to find out how compost can improve soil quality and help plants grow. Finally, they will organize a composting project and fertilize a garden.

This project incorporates elements of the scientific method.

Grade level
Middle school, but can be adapted to suit other grades

Time allotment
Up to 1 semester

Subject matter
Main focus on environmental science, with language arts and social studies connections

Learning objectives
Students will:
  • Gain an understanding of the scientific method and use the scientific method to conduct all phases of the project.

  • Research the environmental benefits of composting.

  • Discover how much organic food and yard waste is produced in their community, learn if the town has a community-composting site, and find out how much is currently being composted.

  • Organize a composting project and use the resulting compost to improve the soil quality of a garden.
  • North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE)
    Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning
    Strand 1—Questioning and Analysis Skills (Guidelines A, C, E, F); Strand 2.2—The Living Environment (A, C, D); Strand 2.4—Environment and Society (A); Strand 3.1—Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues (A, B, C); Strand 3.2—Decision-Making and Citizenship Skills (A, B, C, D); Strand 4—Personal and Civic Responsibility (C, D).

  • Technology Foundation Standards for Students
    Standard 1: Basic operations and concepts; Standard 3: Technology productivity tools; Standard 4: Technology communications tools; Standard 5: Technology research tools.
Students will reflect in writing on how it felt to be an environmentalist. They will report on the results and importance of their project by sending a description to local officials and newspapers, asking for their support of composting. To further share their experience, students will use their research, experiment results, and any photos or drawings to create a scrapbook or Web site explaining their project.

Computer resources
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above
  • Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • RealPlayer plug-in. Download for free at
Materials needed
  • WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video (optional)
  • For the chart ­graph paper (optional)
  • Composted soil
  • Gardening tools (spade, 10 large flowerpots)
  • Soil test, pH kits
  • Indigenous, fast-growing seeds
  • Data records (Excel, or notebook or log book)
  • Camera
  • Excel (optional)
  • PowerPoint (optional)
Online resources

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for students

Global warming research sites

Waste management information

  • Environmental Protection Agency: Contact Information
    Scroll down to the map and click on your region to get contact information for your local EPA office. Consult with local officials to get information about waste disposal in your community.

  • Environmental Protection Agency: Office of Waste Management index.htm#list
    Scroll down to the bottom of this page for a complete listing of landfills nationwide. Use this to find landfills in your area.

Composting information

  • The Compost Resource Page
    This site gives a comprehensive overview of composting.

  • Environmental Defense ­ Composting: Nature's Recycling Program
    Get the facts about composting and find what it takes to start your own composting program in your community or school.

  • The Compost Resource Page
    Read up on the history of composting, and find out why it is invaluable.

  • National Wildlife Federation: Take Action
    This site gives great advice on how to write to local media, write press releases, plan campaigns, and more. You may want to have your students consult this site for advice on how to promote their composting campaign within their school or even their community.

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