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Teaching and Research

A group of students at the compost facility

Cornell’s composting facility is a valuable resource for Cornell researchers and students. It is commonly used by teaching programs as a living classroom, providing hands-on experiences to students with interest in agriculture, soil sciences, waste management, and sustainability.

Research Opportunities

Research at the compost facility includes studies on pre-and-post composting seed viability, in particular seeds from invasive and problematic weeds. Aerobic, heat-generating, composting can degrade and kill seeds from many species of weeds, thereby preventing their potential to germinate wherever finished compost is applied.

A case study found that the compost facility substantially helps to reduce Cornell's carbon footprint (total carbon savings in 2013: 96.7 metric tons carbon equivalent). 

Researchers also evaluated how different formulations of compostable products (e.g. cutlery and tableware) degrade over time, and how various blends and amendments can impact compost quality and the speed of decomposition.

In other studies researchers explored the safety and feasibility of composting road-kill and dead livestock, which, if done right, can be the fastest and safest way to dispose of carcasses. The high temperature and microbial activity during composting greatly reduce or eliminate pathogens.

Off-site, researchers studied how compost quality, quantity, timing and application methods influence soil heath and crop growth.

Participants from the compost facility operator class builds test piles

A Model for Other Composting Operations

The compost facility is the largest such operation in Tompkins County and is frequently visited by researchers and civic waste managers who are interested in the latest composting techniques. Tours and demonstrations of the site help programs and communities around the state visualize and make informed decisions about the composting process. The facility complies with DEC360 regulations and won the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Quality Award in 2009.