Worms, Waste and Why, Oh My!

A kindergartner’s environmentally friendly playground

Learning about lions and tigers and bears is old news for Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) kindergartners. These students are currently exploring the world of waste, worms and why both matter in today’s environment through their LPS garbology curriculum. Two departments with the City of Lincoln have teamed up with LPS Sustainability in a big way.


What is garbology, you ask? Garbology is the study of a community or culture by analyzing its waste. This means come every fall, Lincoln’s five and six-year-old students get the opportunity to talk sustainability with the City of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities’ (LTU) Solid Waste Management Division, Lincoln and Lancaster County Health Department Keep Lincoln and Lancaster Beautiful (KLLCB) and the LPS Sustainability Department. This unit teaches students how each of them can impact the local community and even the world in a positive way, by simply being aware of what and how they manage their waste.

Garbology presentation to LPS kindergarten class Garbology presentation to LPS kindergarten class

Small team, mighty impact.

The average person contributes five-and-a-half pounds of waste per day. Combine that with more than 291,000 people living in Lincoln, and that amounts to a lot of waste! This is just one reason why this small, but mighty team of professionals assists the LPS Sustainability program with fun and educational presentations every fall. These trained educators teach students the importance of where a person’s waste goes and why it is beneficial to reduce, reuse and recycle.

The curriculum offers students a chance to get their hands dirty and learn through sight, sound, and touch. After the presentation, students get to watch red wiggly worms break down food scraps in the classroom. The kindergarteners watch vermiculture composting happen right before their eyes! 😊


“While some kids’ immediate reaction is ‘eww’ when they see the worms in the soil or moving through the trash, the garbology presentation explains why managing your waste appropriately matters. Everything we do creates waste, and the decisions we make throughout the day have an impact on our environment.” said Willa DiCostanzo, LTU Solid Waste Management Waste Diversion Coordinator. “You can see this in the worms. Worms eat food scraps which then become compost. Compost enriches soil and grows larger plants. Some call compost ‘Black Gold’ because it is a wonderful resource to keep our soil and plants healthy.”

Compost, also referred to as ‘Black Gold’ Compost, also referred to as ‘Black Gold’

DiCostanzo, LTU Solid Waste Management Educator Lexy Polivanov, KLLCB Environmental Health Educator Sarah Mason, LPS Sustainability Coordinator Brittney Albin, LPS Assistant Sustainability Coordinator Mandy Koehler, and LPS interns, Tess Foxall and Abigail Graham offer 30-minute presentations centered on LPS’ curriculum. By the end of the lessons, the students are filled with quick and easy sustainable tips to pass on to those in their community.

“We encourage the students to think about how they can reduce waste, use items that can be reused, and we show the kids what types of materials can be recycled at home and at school,” said Koehler. “The students are always very enthusiastic. The eagerness to share their knowledge is contagious and it is fun to watch the students’ reactions when we explain the big picture of how it all works together.”

The beginning stages of composting The beginning stages of composting

It’s feeding time

In total, the Kindergarten Garbology Unit is a 10-day science lesson. During the entirety of the unit, each classroom gets their own Red Wigglers worm bin to observe vermicomposting. “When the kids pick up a worm and learn it can eat half its weight every day, or when they learn what you can and should not feed the worms, their expressions are priceless,” said Mason. “The realization that this little piece of nature can change the entire environment may not be totally comprehended, but they are absolute sponges for all information.”

The sustainability team helps guide students on what food scraps can be fed to the worms and assist with helping students understand how composting fits into our waste management. They are allowed to offer apple cores, banana peels and other scraps to the worms.

Students collect waste to feed to worms to compost Students collect waste to feed to worms to compost

“I hear it all,” said Koehler. “The students have mixed feelings of “this is cool,” or sometimes, “eww, these are icky.” Overall, the students are so excited to learn about garbology and help spread sustainability tips to their families. This gives us gratification in the work we do.”

During the 2020-21 school year, garbology presentations had to be adapted to accommodate COVID-19 protocols in LPS buildings. However, the presentations resumed as normal during first quarter of the 2021-22 school year. This group of presenters visited all 40 LPS elementary schools to deliver the interactive presentations to each kindergartener in the district.

Garbology presentation to a LPS kindergarten class Garbology presentation to a LPS kindergarten class

Want some compost?

The public can learn more about composting on the LTU Solid Waste Management website at lincoln.ne.gov (search: compost).

LTU Solid Waste Management creates compost year-round. EarthFuel compost may be obtained at no cost at the North 48th Street Transfer Station by individuals with small vehicles and/or trailers who would like to use compost in their residential gardens or around their property trees. This use is meant for small projects. The material is available on a first come, first served basis, and individuals must self-load the compost by hand.

EarthFuel compost may be purchased at the Bluff Road Solid Waste Management Facility for larger projects. The current fees apply, and the price includes loading a vehicle. Vehicles larger than a pickup or trailer with larger than 60 square feet of cargo dimensions, are required to use this location and purchase compost.

Happy composting!

LTU Solid Waste Management EarthFuel Composting, Bluff Road Landfill LTU Solid Waste Management EarthFuel Composting, Bluff Road Landfill