Sustainable Urban Design: Educator’s Toolkit for Project-Based Learning, page 13 of 20

An image of two hands holding composted material
Partially degraded organic material from a compost bin. Credit: USDA via Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia

Changes in Grounds Management: Brush, Leaf, and Compost

Managing brush and leaves has usually meant raking it all up, putting it in a plastic bag, and either leaving it at the curb or dropping it at the nearest dump. But these materials don’t need to leave the property and, in fact, can come in very handy. What’s often called yard “waste” does not need to go to waste at all! Brush can provide shelter for welcome wildlife and leaves can be used as mulch or as a great addition to a compost pile or bin.

Compost is decayed or decomposed organic matter used to fertilize plants. A compost pile or bin provides a place for many food leftovers, keeping them out of the landfill, and ultimately gives you nutrient-rich soil to feed your garden. A compost pile can be a simple fenced area accessible for turning over or a container designed for the purpose. Compost bins are available (or can be made) in all shapes and sizes and usually provide a way to turn the compost as needed. Composting can be either "hot," which requires more maintenance but degrades faster, or "cold," which requires almost no maintenance but can take a year or more to fully degrade.

Get Started

Brush and Leaves:

  1. Identify what areas you will focus on to manage leaves and brush. Note that you don't need to address the entire property.
  2. Work with maintenance staff to come up with a plan that works for everyone.


  1. Identify where your compost will live and how you want to contain your compost (e.g., a pile or a bin).
  2. Decide whether you want to establish a hot or cold composting.
  3. Set up a way to gather food scraps from your school's kitchen and/or from families or local businesses. This should include both a process and containers for collection.
  4. Establish a maintenance schedule with students and school staff. Depending on the type of composting you've selected, this may include turning, watering, emptying a bin, and distribution.

Common Challenges

  • Getting permission from maintenance staff to keep materials on the grounds.
  • Working with the food service personnel to gather appropriate food scraps.
  • Compost piles or bins should be accessible, but not located right next to buildings.
  • Composting is an ongoing, year-round task that may need attention when school is not in session.

Maintenance Schedule and Other Notes

  • Leaf management takes place primarily in the fall.
  • Compost may need to be turned on a regular schedule, depending on how you contain the compost and what type of composting system you use.

Related Lessons and Classroom Integration

Additional Project Resources