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The Poop on Composting


Teresa C. Weglarz
Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin—Fox Valley


This interrupted case study tells the story of Miles, a freshman in college, who volunteers to help with the composting program on campus. Miles is excited about composting but his mother is hesitant to try it at home. Miles learns about the key ingredients for successful composting and his mother eventually begins to see its value. The case is presented in four parts, and can be used with or without the PowerPoint presentation and associated clicker questions (see Supplemental Materials). First, students are asked to analyze waste that they generate at home and identify any material that is compostable. Next, students explore the science of composting. Finally, students explore the topic of human manure to consider composting to the extreme. The case was designed for an environmental science course for non-majors; no prerequisite knowledge is assumed or required.

  • Identify compostable materials.
  • List the key ingredients needed for composting.
  • Explain why aeration is important in composting.
  • Describe the biogeochemical cycles for carbon, phosphorous and nitrogen.
  • Explain the biological processes of decomposition in terms of chemical reactions.
  • Discuss the value of compost.
Keywords: Composting; decomposition; carbon cycle; nitrogen cycle; phosphorous cycle; waste; recycling; humanure; manure, toilet
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Clicker, Discussion, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Ecology   Environmental Science   Natural Resource Management   Agriculture   Science (General)  
Date Posted: 12/12/2016
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

Teaching Notes

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Answer Key

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Supplemental Materials

The PowerPoint presentation “The Science of Composting” is intended for use with Part II of the case study.


  The Science of Composting

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