How To Start A Compost Program

There are many great ways to start composting the lunch food waste being generated from your school. Any program is sure to be a hands-on learning opportunity for students, catering to many types of curriculum and disciplines. Composting not only diverts waste from the landfill, but can also reduce disposal costs for your district.

Choosing a program

Worm Bins - This is one of the most interactive and fun ways for students to see their lunchtime food waste disappear and turn into a rich compost of worm-castings (worm poop-don't worry, it's actually pretty clean). Worm bins are easy to maintain with little oversight and are one of the quickest ways to process organic materials into compost.

In-Vessel Stackable Bins - These are plastic boxes that have stackable layers to sit on the ground in order to keep compost piles contained. We offer our customers at-cost BioStack compost systems. Call customer service for more information.

In-Vessel Tumbler - Put food materials in a tumbler that uses heat breakdown method. Turning tumbler regularly will assist the breakdown process.

Compost Cake - This is an open compost pile using the natural breakdown organisms that your pile will attract. Layer brown carbon materials with green nitrogen materials (see below) and watch your pile shrink! Properly watering and turning the pile every few months assist the breakdown process.

Donating to a local farmer or gardener - Lots of farmers and gardeners love food waste for feedstock or their own composting. Advertise in your school newsletter or city bulletins that you are looking to donate your food waste. You can post your materials on Sonoma County's materials exchange forum, or Marin County’s materials exchange forum at; or you can even ask your local grocery store for referrals to farmers interested in food waste.

Keeping the Balance

Each bin system uses the balance of nitrogen materials (fruits and vegetables, green grass cuttings, coffee grounds and tea bags, egg shells, etc.) and carbon materials (dry grass cuttings, straw, paper materials, dry brush, and wood shavings). Achieving the best mix is more an art gained through experience than an exact science. The ideal ratio approaches 3-parts browns to 1-part greens. Judge the amounts roughly equal by weight. Too much carbon will cause the pile to break down too slowly, while too much nitrogen can cause odor. The rule of thumb is to have your compost the moisture of a ringed-out sponge: you don't want any drops of water if you squeeze it. If your pile is dry, you can add more nitrogen materials or water the pile to give moisture.

Collecting Food Scraps

An easy way to start collecting food waste is by first having a recycling program. During lunchtime, if students are already separating recycling from trash, they are probably emptying liquids from recyclable cans, cups and bottles, and scraping food off recyclable containers and plates. An easy way to start capturing food waste is by placing a 5-gallon bucket or small food-scrap collection container next to the recycling and waste cans for students to scrape food. Rule of thumb is, no trashcan goes without a recycling and compost can next to it.

Who can help

  • You can contact your recycling coordinator for a free site visit and consultation for a program that works best for you. Call customer service and ask to be transferred to a recycling coordinator, or email

  • Take a field trip to Sonoma Compost

  • Sonoma County Waste Management Agency's website at

  • Marin County Hazardous & Solid Waste JPA website at

  • Master Gardeners is a partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension Program. They are a dedicated, trained group of volunteers with a shared love of gardening who provide a number of programs and information about using compost to enrich your garden.
    Sonoma County website:
    UC Davis Master Gardener Program:

  • The Compost Club is a non-profit that works specifically with schools and businesses to establish compost programs. They specialize in building worm bins and providing education for students and staff. Call (707) 922-5778