Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Compost bin in Risley Hall kitchen.

February 12, 2019

Wasting Away: Student Managers Facilitate Dorm Composting

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Armed with buckets and posters, Cornell’s 35 student composting managers are combating food waste in dorms in an effort to reduce the amount of organic material sent to the Ithaca landfill.

About two-thirds of student residence halls — all but the townhouses and some West Campus houses — are equipped with composting bins, including large dumpsters and buckets, according to Naomi Haber ’20, Sustainability Coordinator at the Campus Sustainability Office.

Every year, 4,000 tons of organic waste, including waste from residence halls and dining halls, is converted to compost through Cornell’s composting facilities, the largest composting operation in Tompkins County.

The student compost managing team, which was established in September last semester, are meant to lead sustainable development in the student community, according to Haber. They keep track of the compost buckets and are responsible for depositing food scraps into one of the large bins on either North or West Campus once a week.

After compost managers dump the material from their buckets into larger bins on North or West Campus, Farm Services — an on-demand agricultural service — picks up the waste to be poured onto Cornell fields, according to Elena Petkova ’20, a student coordinator of the Campus Sustainability Office, who oversees the compost managers.

Despite the sprawling operation, not all students know of the dorm composting facilities.

Ana Rahman ’21, a former Cascadilla Hall resident, had seen composting posters around dining areas, including Trillium and Manndible, but wasn’t aware of the composting facilities when she lived there.

“I didn’t know that Cascadilla had any [compost] facilities,” Rahman said. “I have never gotten any formal training or introduction on how composing actually works.”

Brandon Hoak ’21, a student compost manager, said that the University publicizes composting information through signage above composting areas, which indicate what waste can and can not be composted.

“But many students do not follow that information correctly,” Hoak told The Sun.

“When people put non-compostable materials in the buckets, whether it is big or small, the batch of scraps is considered contaminated and will be brought to a landfill instead.” Hoak said. “Therefore, it is imperative that students dispose of material correctly.”

Food scraps, including meat, fruit, vegetables, egg shells, napkins, tissues and all paper products are compostable, according to Haber.

In addition to residential areas, students can find composting bins in a wide range of dining locations, including Trillium, Manndible Cafe, Martha’s, Collegetown Bagels and dining halls.

“I think Cornell is doing a pretty good job in composting and supporting a sustainable campus,” Ziwei Gu ’21, Resident Advisor in Clara Dickson Hall told The Sun. However, Gu suggests a reinforcement of recycling rules as well. “Cornell needs a better way to enforce the recycling policy in residence halls so that recyclable materials are indeed placed in the designated containers.”