Decomposition Column

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In this activity, learners turn empty 2-liter bottles into a see-through compost container. Through the sides of the bottle, learners make weekly observations of decomposition over the course of several months. They can explore how moisture, air, temperature and light affect the process, vary the design of their bottle, and build more than one column to allow for different decomposing materials to be compared. The activity comes from a printed book that is also available in Spanish, though the Spanish versions are not available online.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
1 to 2 hours

Learning Time:
1 to 12 months

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per student)

  • Three 2-liter soda bottles
  • One bottle cap
  • Leaves, grass and plant clippings, kitchen scraps, newspapers, animal manure and soil
  • Box top or drawer to stabilize bottle while making cutting lines
  • Marker, wax pencil or crayon for drawing cutting lines
  • Cutting blade or utility knife to start cut
  • Scissors to cut bottle
  • Awl to make holes in bottle caps and film cans (optional)
  • Clear waterproof postal or bookbinding tape to join columns
  • Clothes line, polyester or nylon craft cording (optional)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth's History
  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Viruses and Bacteria
      • Protists and Fungi
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering

Informal Categories

  • Gardening
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • smell
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Science After School Consumer's Guide


Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation