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Navigating Cornell’s Waste Data Management


Cornell R5 Operations is a small, one-person team consisting of Chris Mott. The R5 stands for respect, rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle. It is a division of the Cornell Facilities and Campus Services Department (FCS) that intends to promote sustainable practices across the campus. Since the early 1990s, Cornell R5 Operations team has used a simple Excel spreadsheet for tracking tons of waste processed, with inputs being reported via notes on scrap paper at the end of each facility worker’s shift. It was effective at the beginning, but as the data has grown in quantity and complexity, the spreadsheet has become disorganized and ineffective due to inconsistent measurements and null inputs, externalities of a non-standardized submission process. This disorganization has created an unnecessary level of difficulty for R5 Operations in their analysis, preventing R5 from better utilizing time and resources elsewhere.

As Cornell continues to expand in size and more waste streams are introduced, these shortcomings will only be exacerbated and further convolute the existing waste tracking system. Waste data management at Cornell University is currently inefficient. The goal of this project was to propose a pathway to resolve these issues through the development of a new waste management system capable of integrating existing data from the original system.

Throughout this semester, the student team has worked on designing, implementing, and testing the new waste management system, as well as collaborating with the Sustainability Department and R5 Operations. Within the design of this project, the student team revamped the entire waste data management system, meaning that everyone involved with the previous system must now be trained to properly utilize the updated one. To specify, they divided the directions for two separate user experiences:

  • A. Instructions for Submitting Waste Data: Individuals who will be collecting and submitting waste data.
  • B. Instructions for Analyzing Data Using AWS: Staff from CSO and R5 who will be in charge of tracking, analyzing, and presenting data.

Due to time constraints and scheduling conflicts with stakeholders, to date only minimal user testing has been conducted by R5 and FCS, necessitating an additional round of user testing prior to rolling out a formal round of beta testing. It is hopeful that this project can be a worthwhile first step in a long overdue update to our campus-wide waste tracking practices. If the student project could be implemented, it will catalyze a deeper commitment to sustainability within the Cornell Community and greatly benefit all potential stakeholders and community members while making the system easier to understand and use.

Institutional Outcomes