Virginia Lo / Sun Contributor

“The one time I saw people composting was when there was somebody actually sitting in the booth right next to the tray return,” said Margaret Woodburn ‘23.

October 6, 2019

North Campus Encourages Food Leftovers to be Composted, Not Trashed

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As concerns over climate and food, Cornell has launched the North Campus Waste Reduction Campaign — a multi-pronged effort that seeks to encourage students to increase composting in a bid to boost sustainability.

Cornell’s Sustainable Campus initiative explained that “when we throw away edible food, we also exacerbate food … insecurity for those in need,” as resources that have gone to the production and delivery of food go to landfills instead.

In one effort to bring food waste to the forefront of students’ minds, the program has featured composting demonstrations in North’s dining halls, which weigh the remains of diners’ meals to demonstrate just how much trash can be produced by a single dish.

However, despite the interactive displays, it can still be hard to get students on board.

“The one time I saw people composting was when there was somebody actually sitting in the booth right next to the tray return,” said Margaret Woodburn ’23.

In contrast, Risley’s dining hall has sought to boost participation by enforcing more stringent sustainability policies.

“I’ve been going to Risley a lot and I love the way that they do their food where you have to clear off the plate entirely before you put it in,” said Liam Kaplan ’23, who explained that he and other students would be willing to put in the time to compost more, as it was something that he did in high school as well.

Beyond the dining hall campaign, compost bins have also been placed in community kitchens on each dorm’s floor, along with a compost manager who changes the receptacles out each week.

Anna Goodman ’22, the compost manager for the Loving House, said that a student takes the compost to a central collection place in Low Rise 6 once a week, from where it is directed as needed.

Students can choose to compost food waste from cooking in the kitchens, which involves simply placing food waste in bright green bins labeled with what can and cannot be composted.

“I feel like it should be the University’s responsibility to make it possible and easy for people to live as sustainably as possible,” Goodman said.

“I think more people should be using [the compost bins] because … it’s not going out of your way to use it so I feel like if a lot more people used it, it would make a big difference,” said Kymani McCullock ’23. 

But efforts to encourage greater student recycling represent only one component of the plan to boost sustainability on campus, with much of the efforts occuring behind the scenes.

For instance, Justin Wunder, the lead supervisor for North Star, explained that the dining hall uses a machine to recycle water and create compost. Inside a climate-controlled room, the machines extract water from the food waste and pile up the reusable food scraps in numerous colored compost bins.

The resulting compost is then donated to local farmers in Ithaca, as well as brought to locations on campus like the Cornell Orchards, according to Wunder.

In addition to the placement of compost bins in dining and residential halls, Food Recovery Network, a student-run club at Cornell, donates surplus meals from dining halls to local food pantries.