Much of Composted Materials Rejected Due to Poor Sorting

Approximately 50% of composting from Cornell retail dining and events is rejected due to poor end user sorting...

Composting at Shoals Marine Laboratory, Appledore Island, ME (University Photography/Jason Koski)
Composting at Shoals Marine Laboratory, Appledore Island, ME (University Photography/Jason Koski)

By Sloane Grinspoon via The Cornell Daily Sun, 2/4/14

A large amount of compostable waste is generated at Cornell each year. However, approximately 50 percent of material coming from retail dining locations and waste from major events is rejected due to a high concentration of inorganic contamination, according to Claire Siegrist ’15, an intern in the Campus Sustainability Office.

Cornell collected 835.7 tons of just dining compost in 2013, according to Spring Buck, manager of R5, which stands for “respect, rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle,” Operations, the facilties department that oversees Cornell’s recycling and solid waste operations.

The compost generated at Cornell comes from many different sources, according to Buck. “We do a huge amount of compost[ing] on campus, and it varies from everything from [material from] the greenhouses to animal bedding to food and dining,” she said.

Dining facilities send both pre-consumer and post-consumer waste to the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station facility, but the post-consumer waste yields the problems, according to Buck. Pre-consumer waste is food that was never distributed for consumption, whereas post-consumer waste is food that was served to customers but never eaten. ­­­

Siegrist said large batches of waste from Cornell are rejected from being composted and sent to landfills. The waste is usually rejected because of non-compostable materials like soda cans or plastics.

“Sometimes these bags are rejected right at the loading docks, if [workers] can visibly see inorganic materials in the compost,” she added.

There is no set number of contaminants that will lead a batch to be deemed non-compostable; the discretion is left to whomever is collecting the waste, according to Siegrist.

“CUAES relies on the students and dining hall staff to minimize contamination; however, there is nobody to sift through the food to take out contaminants,” she said.

The contaminated waste is primarily coming from two sources of post-consumer dining waste: a la carte dining locations and waste generated at major on campus events, such as graduation or homecoming, Siegrist added.

According to a 2009 report from the Cornell Waste Management Institute, at “All-You-Care-to-Eat” facilities, such as Okenshields or Robert Purcell Marketplace Eatery, Cornell Dining workers scrape post-consumer food waste into a receptacle after plate collection, which leads to few contamination issues.

However, at retail dining locations run by Cornell Dining, such as Trillium or Ivy Room, students divide their waste into containers themselves. Around 50 percent, of the waste placed into the compost receptacle will not be accepted by CUAES, Siegrist said.

The Student Sustainability Coordinators in Dining work to reduce inorganic materials in the compost receptacles.

The coordinators, which include Siegrist and two fellow students, “have created a weekly volunteer rotation to compost monitor in Trillium Dining Hall, where contamination rates are generally really high,” Siegrist said.

This semester, between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m, the coordinators aim to have someone near the Trillium waste receptacles every day guiding students to discard compostable materials in the proper bins.

“Having informed individuals who know the difference between compostable materials, recyclable items and landfill materials makes a real difference,” Siegrist said.

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