Graphic courtesy of Emma Goldenthal from Cornell Compost (@cornellcompost on Instagram)

September 20, 2023

Don’t Throw Your Education Away: Compost it Instead

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Imagine this. You’ve just had a delicious breakfast at Morrison. You filled your plate high with steaming  pancakes and berries, tater tots, and a couple of hard-boiled protein-packed eggs. You even went back to the dessert bar for a waffle, but ended up only eating half. Now, you’re walking to the dish drop with your fork, a couple of dirty napkins, crumbled egg shells and that oddly enticing half-waffle. You scrape everything on your plate into the trash can and plop your plate and fork onto the dish hopper. You stroll out, satiated and confident, picking up the pace, realizing you’re almost late to your first prelim. 

Meanwhile, back in the dining hall, a lonely figure looms over the trash can. It wears a solemn face: a sign. The sign that reads, in bold font: “Please do not throw food scraps in the garbage.” So, have Cornell students lost their ability to read? Why isn’t composting common knowledge yet? Have we wasted painstakingly clear waste education? 

You tell me. Campus waste clubs and the Sustainability Office have struggled for years to promote a culture of composting on Cornell’s campus. No matter the education campaign they drive or the events they run, these groups continue to face waste contamination, ruining their waste sorting efforts. With COVID-19, inspiring compost programs died out, and with it, apparently, our ability to read signs. 

Now, these campus clubs––Cornell Compost and Residential Sustainability Leaders, to name a few––are returning in full force. They’re collaborating across a large network of Cornell offices and departments, making it as convenient as possible to mitigate food waste. Nevertheless, here we are: leaving our utensils on our plates and dumping our food scraps into garbage bins. 

Okay, so I’ve berated you enough. Why should you even care about composting anyway? Well, according to the EPA, “organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting wasted food and other organics, methane emissions are significantly reduced.” Along with mitigating the effects of climate change, composting can reduce and eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers. Additionally, composting has been proven to increase crop yield! 

Convinced? Want to play your part? Well, here’s my handy dandy guide to mitigating your waste on campus: For starters, respect dining workers. Make their lives easier. Sort your utensils to help our under-paid, overworked dining folks with dishwashing. If human empathy isn’t enough of an incentive, know that the alternative is flimsy paper plates and plastic utensils that break a couple of bites in. Secondly, read the signs. Don’t scrape your food into the trash bin. Leave it on your plate. Cornell Dining composts in the back! Plus it’s less work for you. Think of how much extra time you’d be able to spend.. uh… sleeping… if you didn’t take those extra three seconds after each meal to scrape your scraps into the garbage!!

Enjoy free food? Want a single egg? Stop by Annabel’s Grocery. They source local produce from Dilmun Hill and leftover foods from Cornell Dining. They even have a free food section and host free dinners open to all Cornell students! Like chips? Candy? Forget to throw out the wrappers? Keep an eye out for Residential Sustainability Leaders’ Terracycle boxes that will be up and running again in certain study areas. Terracycle lets you recycle traditionally non-recyclable items like chips and candy wrappers. Each Terracycle bin will tell you exactly what they can accept. So prepare your snacking appropriately!  Sick? Live in a dorm? There’s probably a compost bin in at least one of your kitchens. Save all of your tissues and comfort food scraps after you get over your cold and compost both in your dorm’s compost bin! 

There’s a major knowledge gap between what people know and don’t know about composing. What can that be attributed to? Let me know your thoughts; which of these methods have you heard of before? 

Help us not waste our waste education! Let’s compost instead!” 

Katie Rueff, dining contributor, is a first year in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].