Compost Programs

Composting Programs for the Cornell Community

Are you interested in composting food scraps at home, in your residence hall, or in your apartment? We’ve created a guide to help you get started.

Who can compost, and what are the cost savings?

Anyone can compost. 

Cornell and the surrounding community has several programs that will take your usable food scraps and organic material, or you can start your own compost pile at home.
According to Cornell Cooperative Extension compost is the humus-rich material that results from composting, the controlled decomposition of organic material such as yard trimmings, kitchen scraps, wood shavings, cardboard, and paper. It contributes nutrients and beneficial life to the soil, improves soil structure, and helps prevent runoff that can pollute rivers and lakes. Cost Savings: You can start composting for no or little cost, and easily save $100 or more each year from avoided trash tag and pick up fees. By composting you will have to take the trash out less often and you no longer have stinky, rotting food waste in your trash can.

Get Started

If you are living on campus, there are four ways to compost – all for free.

  1. Composting in Dining Service Locations
    1. Cornell Dining provides compost bins in all on-campus dining locations. Be sure to scrap your food scraps into the yellow compost bins at the end of your meal.
  2. Use the Sustainability Waste Map
  3. Contact Cornell Compost Club for Your Event
    1. Find out more ways to make your event sustainable.
  4. Residential Compost Program at Cornell

If you live in a residential community on campus, chances are you can participate in the Residential Compost Program. Check the Sustainability Waste Map for locations in your building. Simply collect your food scraps and deposit them in your building’s bin. Volunteers will pick up and clean the bins weekly. Check the program page for details about how to get involved as a volunteer and peer educator.  This past academic year, the program was available in about 2/3 of Cornell’s residential communities, including Balch Hall, Akwe:kon, Cascadilla Hall, Clara Dickson Hall, High Rise 5, Just About Music (JAM), Jameson, Low Rise 6, Low Rise 7, Mews Hall, Risley Hall, Becker House, Alice Cook House, William Keeton House, Flora Rose House, Triphammer Cooperative, and Hasbrouck Apartments.

  • Cost: Free
  • Contact Info: Campus Sustainability Office (CSO), email or call 607-254-8722
  • Location: Yellow dumpsters located near Donlon, South Balch and Low Rise 6. Buckets located in your home.
  • Pros: No cost; Make a lasting, sustainable impact on campus; Log volunteer hours if you participate as a peer educator; Network with other students, faculty and staff across campus
  • Cons: Self-transport of materials

Local Compost Programs

Tompkins County Food Scrap Drop-off Spots

Recycling and Materials Management of Tompkins County manages free compost drop off locations at thirteen different sites across the county, where users can bring up to 10 gallons of food scraps, paper napkins, and towels per day. All collected material is processed by Cayuga Compost and available for sale at local retailers. See a map of locations and drop-off hours.

  • Cost: Free
  • Contact Info: Tompkins County Department of Recycling and Materials Management Director Barbara Eckstrom, email or call 607-273-6632
  • Location: See map of all drop spot locations.
  • Pros: No cost; Flexible scheduling
  • Cons: Inconvenient locations from campus; Self-transport of materials

Natural Upcycling

If you can get your entire building, or a portion of a residential community to join you, Natural Upcycling is an option for you. This green company collects organics and food waste from your location and turns it into a renewable resource such as electricity or natural gas through a large-scale anaerobic digestion process. They only work at the “small organizational” level, so be sure to contact this group only if you have enough interest in your community.

  • Cost: Subject to you customized program
  •  Contact Info: Natural Upcycling, email or call 585-584-3124
  • Location: Your home to the compost site in Lindwood, NY.
  • Pros: Specialized program for you; Make a lasting, sustainable impact on your community; Leadership opportunity
  • Cons: Short-term expensive

Do it Yourself

Backyard Composting

Backyard composting allows residents to process food scraps in their own home, usually outside using a bin or pile of organic material. Cornell Cooperative Extension provides resources for both indoor and outdoor composting options including information regarding what products can be composted, layering techniques, material prices etc. If you are a university owned house interested in backyard composting, contact the Campus Sustainability Office (CSO) for more information to begin implementation.

  • Cost: Cost of materials ranges from free to a few hundred dollars.
  • Contact Info: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Compost Educator Adam Michaelides, email or call the "Rotline" 272-2292.
  • Location: Your own backyard!
  • Pros: House engagement opportunity; Long-term cost effective
  • Cons: Labor intensive; No meat or dairy accepted

Getting Materials Ready

General Composting Do’s and Dont’s

  • Do's: Food scraps and napkins & Other
    • Eggs including shells

    • Napkins

    • Fruits & vegetables

    • Refined sugars

    • Meat

    • Gluten products

    • Coffee filters

    • Dairy

    • Beans

    • Paper towels

    • Wood & bark

    • Leaves

    • Grass

    • Dirt

    • Tea bags without staple

  • Dont's: Manufactured items & Other
    • Plastic (eg. grocery or zip lock bags, stickers, other packaging)
    • Metal (eg. staples)
    • Fabrics
    • Wax
    • Chewing gum
    • Electronics
    • 'Compostable' utensils, bowls, cups, plates

Food preparation for backyard composting is slightly different than that for other methods. See Cornell Cooperative Extension’s food scrap preparation guide to learn what materials are accepted, recommended guidelines etc. Promote contamination-free composting with well-labeled signs located by your compost. Find downloadable signs and posters here.


For information about waste stations on campus, contact Cornell R5 Operations.

For questions about the Residential Compost Program or increasing composting where you live and work, contact the Campus Sustainability Office.

For composting questions locally, Tompkins County residents can call the local "Rotline" at 607-272-2292 maintained by Cornell Cooperative Extension.