Food and Compostable Material Collection and Composting on Campus

Food and Compostable Material Collection and Composting

Stanford University began food and compostable material collection in January 2003. Currently, all dining halls, 43 student managed houses, 17 cafès/restaurants, 2 elementary schools, 2 nursery school, medical school kitchens, graduate and student managed houses on campus, faculty-staff housing, and 25 breakrooms on Bonair have food and compostable material collection service. We are currently diverting about 108 tons or 216,000 pounds of food scraps per month. The next phase of the program will target cafés, special events, office/breakrooms on campus. Yard trimmings, wood, brush, and horse manure are a part of Stanford's full Composting and Organics Program.

Why Collect and Compost Food Waste?

Waste audits from campus buildings and events reveal that 30% of the trash Stanford sends to the landfill is organic material. In the landfill, anaerobic decay of food waste releases methane with 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Composting greatly reduces these emissions. Of course, the best way to reduce organic trash is to avoid producing waste in the first place. The hierarchy that we follow when dealing with excess food is first to reduce the amount of food being served so less food waste is generated. Next we feed the excess to people, if possible, then to animals. Once we have tried to reduce and reuse the food waste, then we compost it.

Benefits of Composting Food Waste

There are many benefits to composting food waste including making a valuable soil product that will add biodiversity and structure to the soil to increase the health and yield of the soil, avoiding disposal fees at the landfill, helping to meet waste reduction goals, and sustaining local recycling infrastructures. Most importantly, removing organic material from the landfill reduces the amount of methane that a landfill produces. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere.

Zero Tolerance for Contamination

Our compost facility has zero tolerance for contamination in the food waste; there cannot be any non-compostable items in the food/compost material that we bring to them. We do not sort through the compostable material, it is hauled directly to the compost facility. Therefore, we have special requirements for this service.

What is Compostable?

See our labels and flyers and Zero Waste Flyer for what is considered compostable in our program.

Also, check out our Compostable Serviceware Guide for help in choosing the correct compostable plates, utensils, and cups.

How Do I Get Started?

Where you live or work on campus will determine if you have access to compost collection bins.

Cafe Composting Program. There are over 30 cafés/restaurants/eateries on campus and half of them are collecting food scraps for composting and providing compost opportunities for their customers. Check out the requirements for the Café Composting Program and contact PSSI/Stanford Recycling if you have questions or want to get started.

How To Set Up a Cafe Composting Program

Voluntary Composting Program. For locations that do not have an official program, individuals who want to compost can start a voluntary composting program in their office following a set of guidelines. A standarized bin is provided and the volunteer empties, cleans, and promotes the program. There are currently food and compostable collection bins in the dumpster enclosure at the following buildings: ESF, Cantor Arts Center, Clark, Y2E2, Varian, Mitchell, Bechtel, Tresidder, Math Corner, Lane History Corner, Bing Concert Hall, Montag, Cubberly, CERAS, Law School and the Haas Center.


How To Participate in the Voluntary Compost Program 

Map of Food and Compostable Materials Collection Bins 


Office Composting Pilot Program. As part of the Caretakers Go Green program, a pilot office-level or building-level composting program began in December, 2011 at 25 breakrooms located at Bonair Siding. The bins are emptied three times per week. We are studying best practices, acceptance, and actual diversion to determine the best way to expand this program across the campus.

Graduate Housing and Student Managed Houses Composting Program. Escondido Village, Rains, Munger, Lyman, and Mirrielees residents as well as residents that live in Student Managed Houses have a 64 gallon brown, wheeled food and compostable material collection cart in each dumpster enclosure.

Map of the Food and Compostable Materials Collection Bins in Housing 

Dining Halls. All Dining Halls on campus have access to food and compostable materials dumpster.

Special Events. If you are serving food at your event and have ordered BPI certified compostable serviceware, you can order compost bins for your event.

Faculty/Staff Housing - Single Family Homes. Residents living in single family homes on campus may place food scraps and food-soiled paper in their yard trimmings cart.
Medical School Kitchens. Kitchens and/or breakrooms in the medical school have compost bins. For more information visit:
SLAC. SLAC currently collects food and compostable materials at the following buildings: Building 028, 901, 950, 999, 750, 052, 299, 027, and the Stanford Guest House. See for more information on SLAC's recycling and composting program.
Nursery and Elementary School Composting. Escondido and Nixon Elementary collect food leftovers at lunchtime for composting. Bing Nursery and Rainbow School compost their food scraps and paper towels as well.