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School Composting


We have a number of schools using the HOTBIN to compost food and garden waste. Below we share how they got started and our hints and tips for success.

First decision: decide if this is an “adults only, reduce waste collection” or an “educational tool that will fully involve the children”. It is obvious which option most schools go for – but do not walk into this without planning ahead. Know what to expect and have a plan in place for what to do when things go wrong.

We often hear one or more of these comments: we bought a couple of dalex cones from the council – they were really cheap and we have a bit of garden so we thought we would do our bit. Two years down the line – the bins are overflowing, nothing is breaking down, we now have four bins (they are taking over the place). The children put the wrong things in, no-one wants to clean out the compost. We have masses of flies, our heap got a wasps nest in, we had rats. We can go on!

Do not be put off by this:  all the Council Waste Recycling officers and Master Composters across the country will say the same – composting is not a “toss it in and walk away project”. It is not hard, nor is it time consuming – BUT it does require a method and care (“TLC”) to get the right results.

Scale: are you just going to compost left over sandwiches, fruit cores/skins? Is it going to include kitchen peeling? Or indeed all leftover food waste from lunches? (Please call for advice – the HOTBIN has a maximum fill rate and is not suitable for large schools with significant volumes of food waste).

Which compost bin: the HOTBIN is not the cheapest – but it does hot compost ALL food waste. (Find out more about how to choose a compost bin)

Funding: try all the normal routes: trusts, charities, governors, LEA, Council, Headmasters discretionary spend. You can also get creative – our friends at Waldringfield have got lottery funding for their community composting scheme!


Engage the children – recognise they want to touch, open/close and play – get this out of the way during set up!

Choose the site carefully – close enough to be practical, but not along a main through way.

Learn about composting – decide on your in/out list, who is collecting, when added, who adds it. You will need to look at the HOT vs Cold composting list.

Know your recipe – when composting food waste add shredded paper and bulking agent.

Always have a ‘compost monitor’ – who will take ownership and check progress.

Have the gear on hand – pair of gloves, caddy, stirring stick. Have a place to store them (by the bin is best).

Engage – experience to date shows the children love to record, measure and chart. So take temperature reading weigh the waste added, compost out, work the savings/impact, observe to compost, use the compost, track what happens with/without compost in garden.

Use the science – you will need to relate this to age, but things like recycling, landfill, C/N cycle, through to deeper GCSE/A Level – chemistry (enzymes biocatalysts, rates reaction, Q10), physics (Newton’s law cooling, heat transfer, convectional vs conductive), IT (how do we do set up a remote wireless temperature monitoring). WRAP (recycle now)has a number of resources for keystage1 and 2, our friends at Garden Organic also have resource packs for schools.

Watch for warning signs and intervene early – It is easy to correct and get back on track when using the HOTBIN – the earlier you intervene the easier it is. Have your materials on hand to fix things – shredded office paper, bulking agent, either grass or chicken pellets. Ensure the person who owns this fixing it if it goes wrong is ‘compost friendly’ Be realistic: they should not be squeamish about a bit of odour, have a phobia about flies, unable to cope with the thought of mixing compost or even worse case digging out compost.

Other resources & help: if you are unsure and need help, often you can find a Master Composter to come around and help – they are not there to manage the compost bin for you, but they will help you learn how to do it. Plus we do have a great HOTBIN FAQ

Health & Safety: staff have a duty of care for children at school so H&S and risk assessment figure prominently. Life is not risk free, composting has risks – follow the basic hygiene guidelines and these are minimal. It is undertaken the world over and has been a recorded practise as far back as Roman times;

  • Wear gloves
  • Wash hands after composting
  • Keep composting tools, implements away from food preparation areas
  • Cover cuts to skin
  • Children may not be aware – but do not eat place anything in mouth once gone into compost bin (so no taking a sweet out – even if still in wrapper)
  • Take care asthma those with breathing difficulties – eg wear dusk mask and do not stand over active compost heap.

Above all have fun and enjoy composting! Compost is nature’s way of recycling!

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