Dining halls to start composting

When dining halls reopen after spring break, Yalies will be recycling more than just newspapers.

Rather than incinerating its food waste, the University will send 100 percent of all leftover food from the 11 functional residential college dining halls and Commons to a composting facility in New Milford, Conn. When the program begins March 21, it will cap off a 20-month combined effort on the part of Yale Dining, the Office of Facilities and the Office of Sustainability, said Rafi Taherian, executive director of Yale Dining.

The University will monitor the new composting program closely to ensure it runs smoothly.
Daniel Carvalho
The University will monitor the new composting program closely to ensure it runs smoothly.

Instead of having the city send the waste in garbage disposals to an incinerator, dining hall staff members will scrape any leftover food from trays into 65-gallon brown bins located in each dining hall, said Dan Flynn, manager for Yale Dining Facilities Management. Smaller bins will be placed in each work area for staff members to dispose of vegetable preparation waste, such as apple cores and melon rinds. The compostables will be tied up in cornstarch-based bags, which will then be placed on a designated removal site outside each dining hall, he said.

Early each morning for six days a week, Yale-owned trucks will pick up the bags from each of the sites and travel about 50 miles to transport the compostables to New Milford Farms, a facility owned by the Garick Corporation. After the food is composted, Yale Office of Sustainability manager Robert Ferretti said, other companies owned by Garick will package and sell the nutrient-rich soil to distributors such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Ferretti said he hopes Yale will eventually be able to use the soil additives on its own grounds.

The composting plant charges by the ton, and Yale’s Office of Facilities will cover this cost, Taherian said. Facilities already charges Yale Dining a fee for transporting waste each day, and Taherian said he has not yet been told whether that fee will increase. A representative of Facilities could not be reached for comment.


This initiative follows a long history of efforts to recycle food waste at Yale. Before World War II, each residential college stored food waste in a separate room in its dining halls to donate to Connecticut pig farmers, said Cyril May FES ’89, program coordinator for Yale Recycling. As the number of pig farmers declined, May said, Yale began disposing of its leftovers. In search of a more sustainable option, the University considered composting in the 1980s, but Connecticut had no capable facility at the time, May said.

May, who began working for Yale in 1990, said he surveyed the types of waste that was in the dumpsters of classrooms and residential dining halls in 2007. Since 21 percent of the trash was food waste, he concluded that Yale could drastically reduce its waste stream if it began composting organics.

In the last five years, Yale conducted two pilot projects, Flynn said. The first, a small-scale effort on the part of the newly organized Yale Sustainable Food Project, was unsuccessful, in part because organizers hoped to separate proteins from vegetables and compost locally — but the logistics proved too difficult. The second pilot, which took place in three residential college dining halls and Commons in summer 2008, allowed administrators at Dining, Facilities and the Office of Sustainability to better anticipate the logistics of a large-scale composting system. From the three-month pilot, program administrators collected a variety of logistical data, such as how the new duties will affect dining staff, which types of bags to use and how to store the compostables. John’s Refuse, the company Yale contracted to haul the food waste to New Milford Farms, weighed the compostables, which allowed Yale to gauge its transportation needs.


During the first few months of spring, Yale Dining, the Office of Facilities and the Office of Sustainability will monitor the system to track any problems that may arise. While assessing and continuing the program over the summer, Yale will fine-tune any glitches in the system, Flynn said.

“We think we’ve thought everything through, but something may come up,” Flynn said. “Maybe some locations need additional pickups [and] some places may need less.”

As the program progresses, Flynn said, Yale may begin the next phase, which would involve introducing composting systems in retail locations, such as Donaldson Commons at the School of Management and Marigolds at the School of Medicine.

Composting in Yale’s dining halls will not replace current and future efforts to reduce waste, said administrators in the Office of Sustainability and Yale Dining, who will continue to look for ways to cut down on food waste.

“A big part of this is source reduction,” Ferretti said. “We shouldn’t lose sight of reduction of food waste overall.”

For Yale Dining, these efforts will include working with the Office of Sustainabilty and various student organizations, such as the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership, Taherian said. He added that Yale Dining hopes to educate students about their own waste levels, especially because wasting food increases board costs for students.

These new options include revisiting trayless dining, said Regenia Phillips, director of residential dining for Yale Dining. Although a trial run of trayless dining in Commons in early September ended after less than a week due to student complaints, she said Yale Dining found that the trayless experiment resulted in a significant reduction in food waste.


  • great, but…

    This is great, but what about all the unused food that Yale throws out? It should be handed out to the community or given to off-campus students.

  • JE ’11

    This is one of the best things Yale could be doing. Composting is good for the environment, educational and fun!

  • To #1

    There are two groups that I know of- BRED and DESK- that take leftover food. BRED takes the dining hall bread nightly to a half-way house while DESK takes salads, sandwiches, etc from Commons to a soup kitchen on Fridays.

    But there is still so much more that could be given away- the logistics and sanitary issues are just a bit challenging (but I’m sure could be overcome)