Expand Campus Composting

Compost collection provides an excellent opportunity to educate the campus community...

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Composting is an Innovation goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Work to integrate composting into events, offices, and residence halls on campus.

Goal: Expand compost collection on campus to include campus events and small generator locations, such as office spaces and residence halls.

Compost collection on Cornell University’s Ithaca Campus is expansive and highly successful.

All major dining facilities on campus collect food waste compost, capturing the majority of the food waste stream. Roughly 37% of the total campus waste stream is compost, virtually all of which is captured and processed here on campus. Cornell Dining chefs separate composting material during food preparation, and students, faculty, and staff compost their waste after their meals. About 515 tons of food scraps and organic waste were composted from Cornell Dining facilities in 2012-2013.

Next steps involve expanding existing composting programs to include office spaces, residence halls, and coffee shops on campus, and to uniformly implement compost collection at campus events. Campus demand for growth of compost collection is high. Ad hoc volunteer programs currently exist in many locations throughout campus. For true waste diversion impacts, these ad hoc programs need to be centrally coordinated and institutionalized. Cornell’s R5 Operations (Respect, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) manages the non-hazardous waste and recycling program for Cornell’s Ithaca campus. Cornell’s Farm Services Department manages compost collection and works in partnership with Cornell Dining and the Statler Hotel for material collection.

Compost collection at events and in office and residence spaces presents an excellent opportunity to educate the campus community through compost monitoring interactions, and to motivate staff and students to participate in these efforts. In 2014-2015, Cornell’s Solid Waste Institute will be working to quantify the carbon reduction impacts of compost collection on University emissions.

A significant challenge to the success of the effort to expand composting to small generator locations is that, at present, the compost being collected through these streams is highly contaminated. Therefore, the majority of material collected through the green offices pilot program or at special events is landfilled. Additionally, labor and implementation costs for this action are high. At current rates, small-scale collection at multiple locations could increase waste collection costs for campus facilities.

Next Steps

  • Cornell’s R5 Operations intern will inventory and assess strategies to institutionalize the existing volunteer compost collection efforts in North Campus residence halls. (Current volunteer efforts range in scope and success. Ongoing challenges range from rodent and bug infestations to volunteer coordination and management.)
  • Farm Services and R5 Operations are jointly piloting a volunteer compost collection in one office building on campus, with paid pickups by Farm Services at central building collection points. The pilot project will be designed to eliminate contamination.
  • Review success of pilot programs in both office spaces and residence halls related to contamination of collected material, longevity of volunteer efforts, solutions related to on-site collection/ storage pending pickup by Farm Services, and strategies to control rodent and bug infestation.
  • Streamline and institutionalize compost collection system for special events, which range in size from small office parties to multi-day annual Reunion events.
  • Identify and pilot paper towel compost collection in targeted facilities.


  • Current pilot projects are funded through R5 Operations as feasibility studies. Maintenance or expansion of pilot projects beyond FY14 will require identification of future funding.
  • Ongoing success of an expanded composting program will need to demonstrate resulting environmental benefits and landfill diversion.
Turning a windrow at Cornell composting site (Univeristy Photogrpahy)
Turning a windrow at Cornell composting site (University Photography)

Learn more about the Cornell Farm Services Compost Facility (pdf).