When I think of all of the snacks and lunches that are consumed (and thrown away) in the average school, I think of one thing:

Compost.

What, don't you? Just think of all of those carrot and celery sticks, apples, orange slices, and whole wheat crackers we're packing for our kids. Then, realistically, think of how much of that probably gets thrown in the trash. Yeah. We may as well try to do something useful with it!

Organizing a composting program in your kids' school is a good project for a green-minded parent to take on. Here's what you need to know to get started.

Research, Research, Research

The first thing you need to do is find out if other schools in your area are doing this. Set up a meeting with the people responsible for creating the program, if possible. Learn about how they got their program going, how they involved staff and students, and what they do with the food waste they collect. Ask them what some of their biggest challenges were and how they overcame them. It pays to know everything you possibly can before you present your idea to the principal.

Presenting Your Idea

After you've researched the possibilities, it's time to set up a meeting with the principal. The principal absolutely must be on board with your idea, because getting the rest of the staff involved is vital to the overall success of the composting program. Custodians, food service people, and teachers will all be playing a role in this new program, and the principal is the natural person to organize all of these people - some of whom may not be exactly pleased at the prospect of this added duty. Once the principal has given his or her approval, it's time to take it to the school community.

Create a Support Network

Once your principal is on board with the composting program, it's time to start getting your teams in place. Custodians and food service should be part of the team, as should a few dedicated teachers and parent volunteers. It's also a good idea to put together a "Composting Club" that kids can join - their main job will be helping other students figure out what they can put in the compost and making sure trash isn't thrown into the compost pail. Working together, your support teams will make the composting program run much more smoothly.

Inform the School Community

You'll need to get the word out about the composting program. A few ideas:

- Put a notice in the parent's organization newsletter.

- Ask the principal if it would be possible to include it in the school's regular newsletter.

- Attend a parent organization meeting to present the program to the parents.

- Work with your support network to organize activities and incentives to get the kids into the composting habit.

- Alert the media - small local papers generally assign writers to cover happenings in your school district. Get the word out about both the program and a request for donations (if you need someone to donate building materials to build a compost bin, or services to build one for you, for example.)

Making it Work

Here are a few nuts and bolts ideas for helping the school community get into the swing of composting:

- Signage! Have signs posted in the lunchroom indicating where students should put their compostables, recyclables, and trash. Have one of your Compost Club students man this area to help their fellow students.

- Incentives for composting. Offer small incentives, such as stickers or bookmarks (obviously, this only works up to a certain age...) to students who are doing a good job separating their trash from their recyclables.

- Schedule. Make sure that there is a schedule in place for doing certain things, such as emptying the lunchroom compost pails into the outdoor bin, turning the compost pile, and harvesting the compost.

- Communication is key. It should be clear who people can go to with questions or concerns. There may be questions about what to compost, how to turn the pile, what to do if someone is unable to do their assigned job - having a central person will make the entire program run more smoothly. Your support team should decide who that person is so that everyone knows who to go to.

- Change is good. Sometimes, the processes we come up with aren't so great when we put them into practice. Work together to tweak the routine and duties until you come up with something that works for your school.

Starting a composting program at your child's school is a big job, but it is definitely worth the time and effort. Not only will it keep trash out of landfills, but it will help educate the kids about waste reduction, the natural process of decomposition, and how plants can use the resulting compost to grow. And, instead of merely reading about it, the kids will be seeing it all first-hand. It's a win for the school, the kids, and the planet!

More: Back to School