Residential Composting at WashU

In Fall 2019, the Washington University Green Ambassadors launched a Residential Composting program, allowing all students living on the South 40 to collect compost in their residence. The program followed  a series of successful pilots implemented in the 2019/20 academic year in a small selection of residential buildings. 

Upon signing up, participants receive a 5-gallon compost bucket for their dorm or suite for the remainder of the school year. After filling the bucket up with food, paper to-go boxes, and other compostable waste, participants can empty their bucket in the large compost bin located in the floor trash room.

How To Participate

  1. If you live in the South 40, fill out the brief participation form.
  2. Pick up your compost starter kit. This will include a 5-gallon bucket for compost collection, compostable bucket liners, and a Less is More toolkit. 
  3. Share information about how to compost with your roommates or suite mates.
  4. Collect materials and empty regularly (about once a week).
  5. Spread the word about how fun and easy composting is!
  6. At the end of the school year, respond to the feedback survey and return your bucket to the Office of Sustainability.

Buckets can be picked up at distribution events. If you cannot attend a distribution event, you will be contacted to arrange pick up/delivery.

The Residential Compost Program is operated with the support of Residential Life, WashU Green Ambassadors and the Office of Sustainability. Thank you to the amazing housekeeping staff at ResLife who help make this program a success!

Resources for Composters

How to Compost at WashU

WashU contracts compost hauling services through Total Organics Recycling, which takes the materials to St. Louis Composting, an industrial composting facility. Like a backyard compost pile, food scraps and unbleached, basic paper products can be recycled into nutrient-rich soil. Unlike a backyard compost, industrial compost facilities are managed and monitored in a way that also breaks down meat, bone, dairy, and certified compostable plastic products.

Compost collection happens in three ways at WashU:

  1. Behind the scenes, in the kitchens of most dining establishments.
  2. By diners at select locations, including Hillman Hall, The Village, Law Cafe and Bear’s Den.
  3. By residents who opt-in to the S40 Residential Compost Program.

Materials may be bagged in compostable bags or emptied loose from bags directly into the yellow transportation totes.

What Can Be Composted?

Food (fruit, vegetables, grains, bread, processed foods, eggs, dairy, meat, oils, bones, etc. are all fine to our compost collection) and certified compostable serviceware (paper to-go boxes, napkins and PLA cups and cutlery, etc). Compostable plastics typically have a green stripe or “compostable” written somewhere on the product. Many uncoated brown paper products (like cardboard, brown cardboard pizza boxes or paper bags) can be composted as well. The provided green bucket liners are compostable. 

Plastic products with the following labels are compostable:

If you are uncertain if something is compostable and cannot confirm through labeling on the item or through the posted signs, the material should be put in the landfill container. If a compost collection container is not available, you may hold on to the waste until you are near a compost collection location, or you must throw the material in the landfill.

DON’T BE FOOLED OR LAZY: common compost contaminants include non-compostable cutlery (most of the black cutlery on campus), ramkins/portion cups containing condiments are usually standard plastic, candy wrappers, plastic wrappers. Open and sort your to-go boxes before composting!

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if I put something in the compost that is not compostable?
Compost is collected in 64 gallon totes. The driver picking up the compost daily checks the container before adding it to the larger load. In addition to a hefty fine, the whole load will be rejected and go to the landfill. Regular fines will jeopardize the success and affordability of the program and could result in canceling the program. Sending loads to the landfill negates all the good work others (and yourself) are doing to make the program work. Unsure? ASK!

What do I do with my compostables if I’m not at a location that collects compost?
If you are willing and able, hold onto your compostables until you can toss them at a compost location! Otherwise, unfortunately, these materials will have to go to landfill.

Why is campus-wide composting not available?
While we have a long-term goal to offer composting at dining facilities across campus, pilot locations have not yet demonstrated ongoing success. With continued education and making to-go materials more uniform across dining locations, we anticipate achieving a shift in campus culture and awareness. Once contamination is consistently below the allowable threshold, we will be able to better advocate for campus-wide post-consumer composting.

Where can I find compostable collection on campus?
Post-consumer composting can be found at Bear’s Den, the Law School, Common Grounds (Hillman Hall), and the Village. The Medical School, Whittemore House, and the DUC collect pre-consumer compost.

More Questions?

If you have more questions about waste sorting, visit this page for more specifics about what goes where and why. If you have other questions about the program, contact Cassie Hage:

This program was initially launched with funds from the Student Sustainability Board (SSB). If you have an idea for a project that would make campus more sustainable, visit
their website or send them an email at!