South Campus Composting Program Turns Food Waste Into Rich Nutrients for Plants

Syracuse University Sustainability Management has launched a Student Composting Program for South Campus residents. The goal is to reduce the amount of organic material going into trash dumpsters.

In January 2019, Sustainability Management piloted a composting program with a small group of volunteers living in South Campus housing. The program ran for 10 weeks and about 100 pounds of food scraps were diverted from the waste stream and delivered to the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA) Composting Facility. The food scraps were turned into compost—a high-nutrient material that can be used in gardens and lawns to add back nutrients that are necessary for plants to grow. The compost is a replacement for synthetic fertilizers that harm streams, lakes and oceans.

More than 100 students are now participating across South Campus.

Jovan Thomas ’20, a student intern from the Falk College Public Health program, is running the program along with his program mentor, Meg Lowe, Sustainability Management sustainability coordinator.

Based on their apartment location on South Campus, participating students have an assigned day for pick-up of their compost bucket. Thomas sends a reminder the night before by text message to place their bucket on their doorstep. Thomas then travels around South Campus and exchanges the full compost bucket with a clean bucket. The food scraps are weighed and then delivered to a food scraps dumpster that will be taken to the OCRRA Composting Facility.

The fall 2019 program has exceeded expectations. In the first four weeks, 526.4 pounds of food scraps were diverted.

“As a Sustainability Management intern, my involvement in the composting program evokes the side of me that wants to make a difference,” Thomas says. “As a Public Health student, I seek to pursue a career for the betterment of society, which is also why I took this internship. In my short time here, I have learned more about improving the environment and I learned that composting is beneficial to our human health.”

“As Jovan’s program mentor, I am excited to show him how projects like this are implemented on the University campus and what it takes to ensure their continued success,” says Lowe. “As a Public Health student, Jovan Thomas is taking this a step further and researching why compost is such a benefit to all of us and the environment.”

Most of the trash collected in Onondaga County goes to a local waste-to-energy facility, where it is incinerated. Typically, food scraps are the heaviest and wettest items in the waste stream. By removing the food scraps, not only is nutritious organic matter created, resources are saved by not having to burn them at the waste-to-energy facility.

The Student Composting Program took nearly two years to implement. If it proves successful, it will remain a permanent program on South Campus.

South Campus residents who have not already signed up to participate may email  to request to join the program. In the email, include a South Campus address and a phone number that receives text messages.

For more information on sustainability programs and classes, visit sustainability.syr.edu, follow @SustainableSU on Twitter and Instagram, and check out the Syracuse University Sustainability Facebook page.