Campus Materials Management

Diverting materials from the landfill and redirecting those materials to new and existing businesses...

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Campus Materials Management is an Innovation goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Develop strategies for improved management of university materials and identify opportunities to utilize recovered materials as inputs for local not-for-profit or for-profit ventures.

Goal: Perform ongoing analyses of the inputs and outputs to Cornell’s Ithaca campus in order to identify opportunities to divert materials from the landfill and, when possible, redirect these materials to new and existing businesses.

Cornell’s R5 Operations (Respect, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) manages the non-hazardous waste and recycling system for Cornell’s Ithaca campus. With many campus partners, R5 Operations hosts programs for recycling of papers, plastics, cans, glass, electronics, used oil, scrap metals, wood, tires, light bulbs, batteries, and more. Visit the R5 Operations website for a detailed inventory of Cornell’s recycling metrics. R5’s overarching goals are to increase the campus waste diversion rate, to reduce overall waste, and to ensure regulatory compliance.

One goal of this action is to develop programs to capture wastes which have not yet been identified. Cornell’s new recycling program for pesticide containers serves as a good example. While the larger generators of this material (for example, the golf course) have been identified, identifying and capturing material from smaller generators of the material (i.e., labs) will improve landfill diversion.

Another goal of this action is to identify opportunities to utilize materials recovered from campus as feed stocks for new and existing businesses. For example, R5 Operations is currently reviewing strategies for improved management and potential diversion of polystyrene, clean wood waste, and construction plastics. This action targets non-hazardous and Universal Wastes, and excludes compostable waste. Additional diversion streams for Universal and non-hazardous waste, depending on the material stream, will have both positive and negative costs. R5’s goal is to keep costs neutral.

A good example of an existing mutually beneficial partnership to utilize “waste” inputs to produce valuable outputs is Cornell’s mulching operation. The Grounds Department and Cornell Plantations create mulch from leaves, brush, and tree waste which are collected on campus and from neighboring municipalities. In the fall the City of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights send most of their leaf waste to Cornell Plantations for mulch generation. Cornell’s Farm Services processes the material for the Plantations at their campus compost facility.

Next Steps

  • Continue to build relationships with local partners, including: Tompkins County, local colleges, and existing and potential vendors.
  • Look for opportunities to coordinate this action with Cornell Cooperative Extension programs.
  • Build relationships with regional partners and strengthen ties through participation in the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling (NYSAR3).


As new material streams are identified, cost-benefit analyses will be conducted.