Compost and Food Waste

Cornell is committed to reducing food waste through composting, educational programs, and in-house facilities that reclaim organic material, and recover usable meals to reduce food waste. You can take part in food recovery and composting programs where you live and work.

Dining Halls

Reducing Our Waste: Campus Efforts

Why should we compost? Turning food scraps and other organic material into compost returns crucial nutrients in the soil, conserving quality and fertility. Composting also promotes the growth of healthy bacteria needed to break down organic matter and lowers our carbon footprint. 

trillium compost

Compost in Dining Halls

Learn more about this program

Composting bins are located in every dining hall on campus managed by Cornell Dining, and many other dining facilities on campus.  All of Cornell Dining’s pre-consumer food waste is collected in every Dining unit and composted by one of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES) farms, Farm Services.

Look for the helpful how-to signs noting what to compost, recycle or toss into the landfill hanging above all waste bins.   
Fast facts about composting in dining services:

  • Both pre and post consumer food waste is diverted to Farm Services to be composted.

  • 100 % of used fryer oil is sold to an outside firm to be converted to bio-diesel. 

  • Farm services collects about 837 tons of food scraps and other compostables from 15 dining hall on campus. On average, Cornell diverts over 3,000 tons of waste from the landfill through composting across all of our waste streams.

  • Get more facts in the AASHE STARS Report

Pre-consumer composting includes all food waste and plant-based products being composted during preparation and cooking before being served to customers, including all produce, dairy, meat trim loss, and any other food products that would not be eaten or salvaged. The University’s compost facility is operated by CUAES Farm Services. Farm Services handles 57 waste streams across campus and composts about 7406 tons of waste annually. In addition to food waste composting, 6377 tons of animal manure and bedding from the School of Veterinary Medicine, the Cornell Dairy program and other animal facilities on campus, and 217 tons of plant material and soil from greenhouses and other plant growth operations on campus are composted at the facility.

residential bin

Residential Compost Program


As of 2018, composting is available in all on-campus residential communities.  Student Residential Compost Managers  oversee compost bins in residential community kitchens and provide peer-to-peer education on composting.  Look for a bin in your hall, or join the programs as volunteer!

Contact Cornell Compost 

Cornell Compost is a student club dedicated to supporting all composting on campus — individual and institutional — with the goal of making compost universal at Cornell.

Compost Programs

Why should we compost? Turning food scraps and other organic material into compost returns crucial nutrients in the soil, conserving quality and fertility. Composting also promotes the growth of healthy bacteria needed to break down organic matter and lowers our carbon footprint. 

Green residential compost bucket with text "Compost" and name of contact for that residential facility

Residential Composting Program

Composting is available in all on-campus residential communities.  Students can apply to become Residential Compost Managers, leaders on-campus overseeing kitchen compost bins within their residential communities and who provide peer-to-peer education on composting practices. Compost Managers empty compost bins weekly, work to reduce food waste contamination, and communicate with residential staff and the Campus Sustainability Office.  

Take Action: Compost your food scraps in residential communities, or join as a volunteer in the Residential Compost Managers program. Encourage others to learn the rules on composting materials and be sure to keep the waste stream sorted properly.

Pile of compostable food scraps

Compost in Dining

Composting bins are located in All You Care to Eat dining rooms, including TrilliumMartha's CaféMattins CaféIvy RoomRisley DiningSynapsis Café104West!, Cornell Dairy Bar, and One World Café. Don't worry – there are helpful how-to signs noting what to compost, recycle or toss into the landfill hanging above all waste bins.   Please note that "compostable" serviceware is no longer accepted in any bin on campus or in Tompkins County, due to high contamination rates and a lack of production decomposition.

Take Action: Compost your food scraps at the end of a meal on campus and encourage others to do the same. 

Our Composting Facility

We manage our own compost at Cornell. The Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES) Farm Services manages the compost campus facility, handling 57 waste streams across campus and composting about 3,400 tons of waste per year.

Compost Bins for Events

More information coming soon.

Farm Services Compost Facility


Why does food waste matter?

According to a UN study, food loss and waste impacts are the world’s third-largest contributor to climate change, and, the U.S. issues the highest amount of food waste per country with the EPA estimating that more food reaches landfills  than any other material in our everyday trash. When we throw away edible food, we also exacerbate food hungry and insecurity for those in need, and waste precious resources that have gone into the production, fertilization, and delivery of our food and organic material.  

We can reduce food waste, together. 

Two main strategies can help reduce food waste.  Food recovery reduces the waste of edible food, by reducing waste during food preparation and cooking, and reclaiming usable food for those in need. Composting allows food scraps to become usable matter for improving farms, gardens, and for soil. 

Food Recovery Programs

Cornell Waste Management Institute (CWMI)

Five students wearing food recovery network shirts pose in a dining hall while reclaiming usable food
The Food Recovery Network is Cornell's student-run club and program to reclaim usable food and meals for the hungry.

Cornell Food Recovery Network

The Cornell Chapter of the Food Recovery Network reduces dining food waste and tackles hunger by donating surplus meals from Cornell's dining halls to local food pantries.   The FRN began recovering food from Becker House Dining Hall in 2014. Surplus meals from the dining hall are donated to the local Friendship Donation Network, where they are redistributed to pantries all over the county. Students and others are welcome to volunteer and help with food recovery efforts.  Details are available on the FRN website.

Empty plate with some food residue
Get your guests full and reduce food waste by planning for just the right amount.

Take Action: Planning Your Events

Green Events Guide

You can help reduce food waste by ensuring you purchase the appropriate amount of food for your event, and donating or allowing guests to take food remaining at the end of an event so no edible material goes to the landfill.  

Check out the Green Events Guide (link above) for tips and tricks on how to manage your events for maximum food recovery on campus.

Composting Programs 

Reducing Food Waste in Dining Services

Panorama shot of a typical Cornell dining hall waste disposal station, including recycling, landfill, and compost bins.

Dining Services Composting and Food Recovery


Each year, Cornell Dining composts roughly 850 tons of food scraps by reclaiming materials in during food preparation and from consumers.  Cornell dining staff compost during food preparation in all kitchen facilities. 

Food Recovery

Cornell Dining regularly donates produce and dairy products to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier which services 7 counties in the region. Cornell Dining also works with the Food Recovery Network to donate prepared, perishable food to Loaves and Fishes and other food banks in the Finger Lakes Region.

For more information: Cornell Dining Sustainability Website

Close-up of hands holding two plates with no tray, in a dining room
In a 2009 New York Times article, Cornell was featured as one of several U.S. institutions that had begun trayless dining, and the impact it had on consumers on campus. (Photo credit: Oscar Durand for The New York Times).

Trayless Dining

Trays cause consumers to take more food, which can lead to more food wasted. In addition to greatly reducing food waste, trayless dining saves water and energy and reduces the need for detergents that can be bad for the environment.

Cornell Dining began introducing trayless dining in 2008. (This 2009 New York Times article cites Cornell as an early campus adopter of the practice). 

Currently nine of the ten All You Care to Eat Dining Facilities practice trayless dining. 

Cornell Dining has participated in living laboratory research to help inform better food waste-reduction practices.  A 2015 study published in Public Health Nutrition using campus dining facilities found that trayless dining decreased the percentage of diners (average age 19.1 years) who took salad by 65.2%.

Dining Services