School Compost Program Logistics

If you'd like to know how the compost programs at our schools work:


In the very beginning of our compost program (late 2015), we asked school PTA/PTOs, New England Grassroots Environment Fund, and a local charity (Lexington Education Fund) to fund a pilot program in three schools. They were all extremely supportive and responsive. And most importantly, wrote us checks.

After the first few months, our public schools Superintendent said, we’ll put it in next year’s school budget! So the compost pickup program has been funded by LPS since the fall of 2016.

By the fall of 2019, the roll-out had been completed; all nine LPS school kitchens and cafeterias were diverting all food/organic waste to the composting program every day!

Key to Success:

  • Talk to all stakeholders: superintendent, school principals, custodians, students, parents, and teachers. Check in with them periodically.

  • Start small, perhaps from one day a week, and slowly build up the community of student and parent volunteers.

  • We rely on student and parent volunteers. We certainly recommend ordering grabbers like this one to pick out any contaminations/mistakes. Gloves help too, especially if there is not a sink nearby to wash hands.

  • Clear signs that include pictures of what should go where.

In the Cafeteria & Kitchen:

Before lunch, we bring in clean/lined 64-gallon toter(s) inside the cafeteria for students to throw in food waste directly (occasionally the toter may have some scraps from the kitchen in the bottom, which is fine).

At some kitchens, staff put food scraps in a 5-gallon bucket on the processing counter and empty it in a compost toter. At the larger high school and middle schools, the kitchens use their own 64-gallon toter.

Our lunch trays are compostable, though not all students use them, they take up space in the compost toters. So we stack them first before throwing in with the food waste. This doesn't always happen at the HS.

Compost Pickup Logistics:

If you want to calculate the cost and how many toters you need, our experience has been (this includes kitchen scraps from food preparation):

  • ~500-student elementary schools: 1 toter per day.

  • ~900-student middle schools: 2 to 3 toters per day.

  • 2,400-student high school: 6 to 7 toters per day (compostable trays are not always stacked).

For additional help on organic waste weight calculation, visit RecyclingWorks' guide.

Black Earth Compost picks up:

  • once a week, 4 toters at each of the 6 elementary schools

  • 3 times a week, 6-7 toters each time, for the two middle schools

  • 3 times a week, 16 toters each time, for high school,

Black Earth Compost has been very flexible and responsive in pick up scheduling as they pick up compost from paying residents in Lexington and Arlington as well. We have been extremely satisfied with their service.

Next Steps:

  • We are advocating for newer schools to install dishwashers and use reusable food ware!

Harrington Elementary School

Bowman Elementary School

Diamond Middle School

Clarke Middle School

Lexington High School

Further Resources