Cafeteria to Compost Cycle





Understand what happens to our unwanted food when it leaves our cafeteria, and understand the difference between things that are compostable and non-compostable.


What is waste?

How do we create and manage food waste?

What is compost?


Cafeteria to Compost Cycle laminated pictures ( example pictures from the West Tisbury school), 3 (or more) buckets of compost with non-compostable items mixed in – milk cartons, plastic forks, plastic straws, chip bags, etc. These can be picked out from the farm compost piles where cafeteria scraps go


Set up the 3 compost buckets with hand shovels in the school garden, with enough space for each group to gather around. Take pictures of your school’s cafeteria staff, students composting in the cafeteria, and where that compost goes to (farm or garden or composting site).


“I am going to show you a story without any words. Look at the pictures carefully and see if you can tell me the story.” Slowly show each picture of the Cafeteria to Compost cycle. Go through the cycle twice so students have a chance to think about what they are seeing. “What is the story? Who are the characters? Why is this story important?” Have students discuss their thoughts. “Let’s go through it with words now.” Have a student describe each picture as you hold it up.

“This is our school’s story about compost and WE are the characters. Today I have brought big buckets of compost made from our school’s food scraps to add to our garden! But before we can add the compost to our garden, we need to check it carefully. Why do you think we need to check the compost? What could be in there that maybe doesn’t belong?”


Separate the class into 3 or 4 groups depending on how many buckets you brought and how big the class is. Ask each group to find all the non-compostable items they can. You will need to break down this word! How can we know if something will decompose? Anything that was once alive will decompose! Even seashells, although they may take a few years. Have each group find items that will not decompose. Look for about 5 minutes. At the end of the 5 minutes come into a circle. Have each student quickly share what their item is, what they think
it’s made of, and why it won’t decompose.


Brainstorm what we can do differently in the cafeteria to make our compost healthier?
If there’s time, add compost to the beds! Or save for the next class.


Visit a farm where compost is made, see up close how the Island Grown Initiative Food Rescue truck works

Make signs for your cafeteria about what can and cannot go in the compost.

Ask your school to invest in compost-friendly materials vs. plastics (check with IGI before making any purchases as many “compostable” materials will not decompose in our facility)

Bury something living and non-living in the compost pile or a worm bin. Check back in a week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, etc. to see what happens.

Ask Vineyard Conservation Society to follow up with a lesson about microplastics and how plastic items affect our compost.