Waste management




Effective waste management can turn unwanted waste products into resources and reduce disposal costs. Waste management is part of every industry, but a waste product produced by one business can be a resource to another. Residuals from animal, food and yard waste, as well as industrial and household waste, have the potential to be valuable in agriculture and horticulture production as erosion control and nutrient and carbon sources, and in energy production and other industrial processes.
The Cornell Waste Management Institute (CWMI) plays an important role in bringing people interested in waste-related topics together. Our outreach efforts have connected people across the U.S. and around the world with resources. In the past four years alone, more than 6 million people have visited the CWMI website; 27,605 documents have been downloaded from the e-commons; 6,675 stakeholders have participated in 114 workshops and conferences; and 8,640 requests through phone and e-mail have been fielded.
We have collaborated with 18 universities (with particularly close collaborations with Penn State University, University of Maine, University of Vermont, Iowa State University, and Syracuse University Center of Excellence), many Cornell departments, and staff from more than 20 agencies and organizations. We have worked with extension educators from 48 counties in New York state, including city and urban counties, realizing great mutual benefit.


Managing wastes from homes, farms, businesses and industry is a critical component of society. We all create waste and need to reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, incinerate or landfill. With the advent of Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rules and concerns about nutrient management, ever-increasing generation of solid waste in all industry, and the decline in rendering services and demand for livestock bedding, there is increased demand for research and outreach in organic and solid waste residual management. CWMI’s Compost Facility Map helps facilitate the movement of organic feedstock to compost facilities; in 2012, 12 new facilities were managing more organics.
Improper management can pose environmental risks, threaten bio-security, affect human health and annoy neighbors. Cornell has a major role to play, particularly regarding generation and use of wastes in agriculture and communities. Understanding and communicating the risks and benefits to soil and human health of waste-residual applications on agricultural lands is a particularly important function of CWMI. CWMI gathers information and delivers research-based knowledge around the world. Our program researches alternative uses for these residuals and makes connections with those who can benefit from their value.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have aggressive goals to remove more “waste” from landfills and incinerators and turn that waste into a resource through value-added processes. These agencies depend on CWMI to help build infrastructure to manage more organics by providing technical assistance and expertise. We work with farms and municipalities to expand the feedstock they accept, effectively recycling more nutrients and organic material. There has been great demand for on-site compost education from homes, businesses and institutions. In 2012,we worked with more than 300 Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners in eight forums on implementing small- to medium-scale composting to encourage organic waste management at the point of generation (e.g., homes, institutions, businesses). With some support from Development Authority of the North Country, a cluster of schools are starting to compost 80 percent of their waste stream on-site. This effort will grow in the North Country and spread from school to school in the state.
With partial support from the EPA, CWMI is training college students in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to implement composting in secondary schools. Solid waste curriculum, posters and games were developed in English and Spanish (http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/spanish.htm) in a joint effort with Syracuse Environmental Finance Center to guide the students in teaching. The islands are nearly out of landfill space and on a fast track to implement solutions through recycling and composting. In three events 170 students and educators were trained and working in the schools at the conclusion of our training programs. Participants keep in touch through Facebook to facilitate networking and share educational efforts.
Through the “Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities” program and related soil quality efforts (http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/soilquality.htm), CWMI is currently collaborating with the N.Y. Department of Health, GreenThumb/NYC Parks, other researchers and extension educators in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and Cornell Cooperative Extension, and other community partners. The program, whose reach extends across New York state and beyond, has assessed levels of toxic metals and other contaminants in urban community gardens and is working with communities to implement effective best management practices to reduce exposure to contaminants in the soil. Many urban garden sites have elevated levels of lead and other contaminants that may pose risks to public health. However, the issue of soil contamination is not unique to urban systems. Given the continued importance of home and community gardening and food security in rural, suburban and urban systems, additional research is needed to be able to make informed recommendations on effective and sustainable solutions to mitigate contamination in a variety of locations where people will continue to grow food. The availability of fresh local food, access to green space, improved soil quality and many other benefits of gardening and building healthy soils are essential components of vibrant, sustainable communities. Research to date suggests that application of quality compost can reduce the concentration of heavy metals (e.g., lead, arsenic) in contaminated soils, and that compost application is an essential part of a comprehensive site management strategy to reduce contamination.
In collaboration with Penn State University, The Natural Rendering program has grown to include the development of a new fact sheet “Horse Mortality: Carcass Disposal Alternatives” and DVD “Natural Rendering for Horses - Composting Horse Mortality.” These resources are used in programming to give horse owners disposal options. Research conclusions are included in the information so that livestock owners have good information on disposal of euthanized animals. This information has been published in horse publications and scientific journals.
CWMI continues to work with community programs to increase organics recycling. Ten municipalities around New York state are at different stages of adding commercial and residential food waste into existing yard-waste compost operations. We are assisting them in working through the collection and management issues of accepting waste food. Technical assistance while implementing these programs is essential for the management of food waste as food has a tendency to become putrid, making the process of handling it more complex than most processing. Through three compost tours in different locations, waste managers have seen a variety of operations to gain information about how different facilities function and met many compost operators in order to better network. CWMI works with solid waste organizations and utilizes their conferences to get more information to waste managers.


CWMI builds connections among campus experts, educators, practitioners, communities and government officials to develop knowledge and put it to use. CWMI programs have allowed for policy development for Cornell Cooperative Extension in municipal, farm and mortality composting.
CWMI continues to engage diverse stakeholders, including government agency personnel who are responsible for managing waste residuals, regulating wastes and nutrients, assisting the agricultural community and funding waste-related research and outreach; livestock farmers; compost producers; government agencies; other universities and colleges; NGOs; private consultants and waste management companies; and Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and Cornell faculty and departments.
Through the Managing Wastes Program Work Team, and by monitoring web requests in waste-related topics, we gear our research and programming to stakeholder needs. We also participate in other related Program Work Teams to see if there are other collaborations and waste-related needs with which we can assist.


CWMI helps with policy development and assists with interpretation of rules in three main areas: mortality disposal, solid waste disposal and organic residual use to generate energy.
Over the last four years, CWMI has provided assistance to 9,730 people in 156 events that included New York farmers, agriculture advisers, and business and municipal personnel who compost manure, mortality and yard and food waste, improving water quality and economics. Extension educators, veterinarians, agency staff and composters were reached with research-based information, which helps to set direction for research, policy and outreach.
Programs include research to help farmers answer questions related to use of dairy manure solids as an animal bedding, work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS), the EPA, the NYSDEC and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) on composting of mass animal casualty in disasters, NYSDEC food scrap compost workshops, policy around sewage sludge, New York State Department of Health and the NYSDEC soil clean-up standards, and work with contamination in garden soils.
Three two-day workshops on mortality composting trained 62 people who then educated 1,121 people in 15 states. To better reach those with limited travel capabilities and to communicate with trainers, five webinars on special topics were convened, reaching 800 people. Topics included risk communication, environmental effects of burial and composting, poultry management, butcher waste, unwanted horses and policy related to disposal.
CWMI presented information at five CAFO meetings that addressed more than 480 farm managers and agriculture advisers. Educational materials were developed in collaboration with the NYSDEC and NYSDAM on a compost response to an avian influenza outbreak. As a result of this training and many years of teaching and demonstration, most farms, as well as many butchers in New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania, and more than 200 Department of Transportation sites in and out of New York state compost carcasses and residuals. CWMI also works with the NYSDEC, NYSDAM, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Soil and Water Conservation Service on emergency response for mass casualty events, and 450 emergency personnel were educated to respond to mass mortality events. Cornell University, The University of Maine, Penn State University, Iowa State University, the EPA, USDA APHIS, NYSDEC, and others worked together to coordinate a fourth National Carcass Disposal Symposium to disseminate and gather information addressing mass casualty from natural and people-induced disasters.
Through 10 roundtables and workshops, 440 people received information to better divert and manage food scraps. Participants included regulators, industry, food banks, universities and composters. This input is used to set policy, recover value from waste and set future programming direction. Along with food waste diversion, industrial waste (including Milk Bone dog biscuit dust, fish, onion trimmings, Breyers and Stonyfield yogurt residuals, Cool Whip residuals, Ben & Jerry’s residuals, and tobacco cuttings) is being diverted for use in agriculture, to produce energy in industrial and farm digesters, and composted to provide a value-added product and to meet plant nutrient needs while balancing nutrient management plans. CWMI is providing assistance to the NYSDEC in revising the New York State Solid Waste Management Plan to better manage waste.
The research results of use of dried manure solids as dairy barn bedding reached 290 farmers and industry leaders in workshops and demonstrations. Research included how to best manage dairy manure solids and composting bedded packs. With the current competition for carbon sources, farmers have information from Quality Milk Production Services, Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and the farms studied to make informed decisions about bedding needs in a sustainable manner.
The “Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities” program at CWMI is helping gardeners make informed decisions to manage contamination in soils. A series of fact sheets have been developed to help gardeners understand contamination in gardens and residential soils, with suggestions for measures to protect human health. A National Institutes of Health grant was secured to assess and address contaminants in urban community gardens through a community-research partnership. Soil test results and interpretation will continue to inform garden management and education programs to minimize impacts to human and soil health, while interactions with community stakeholders (e.g., through gardening events and discussion forums in New York City and Ithaca, urban farming workshops in Buffalo, responding to information requests by email and phone) clearly indicate an ongoing need for comprehensive educational programs addressing diverse topics related to soil quality, including: 1) training on-site assessment and soil sampling and testing protocols; 2) information about and access to reliable, affordable, certified soil testing labs; 3) simple guidelines for interpretation of soil test results that allow for site-specific considerations; 4) assessment of contaminants in municipal compost and available soil/fill, and access to these materials; and 5) possible liability issues or closure or avoidance of gardens if soil tests reveal contamination. One thousand city garden soils were analyzed through the “Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities” partnership, along with several hundred samples of garden-grown vegetables; research findings and implications for best management practices are being shared with gardeners through outreach and education programs. Twelve forums reached 1,222 people. Additional fact sheets, workshops and other resources to address these topics are currently under development to augment existing resources: http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/soilquality.htm.
One of the important roles CWMI plays is convening people interested in waste-related topics, bringing regulators, educators and stakeholders together to solve waste-related problems. Three examples of these efforts included (1) increasing waste management efforts in the Hudson Valley and New York City, (2) bridging gaps in schools and developing new resources to reach them and get them working together, and (3) connecting 300 Master Gardeners/Composters with others in their community. CWMI conducts targeted research, provides programming and assists in policy development on many waste topics including recycling, composting, digestion, waste reduction and agricultural waste management. Agri-businesses have implemented different types of composting to manage waste, balance nutrients, create animal bedding and increase their economic stability.
CWMI collaborates with other Cornell departments to play a major role regarding generation and use of wastes in agriculture and communities. CWMI delivers research-based knowledge around the world, including instruction in six Cornell credit classes and the Tompkins County Master Composter program. The latter has been offered to the community for decades; this year we were able to offer it to Cornell students for credit. Our web site (cwmi.css.cornell.edu) continues to expand and is used in New York and throughout the world. The website’s new blog effectively highlights our current efforts. CWMI’s reach was extended by working with extension educators from more than 42 New York counties in 2012. CWMI replies to more than 360 requests for information per month via e-mail and phone. Fifty-six videos and documents are archived on eCommons, and our videos on YouTube received 11,232 downloads. In waste related programs, CWMI has reached more than 3,000 individuals with direct contact.

Submitted by: 

  • McBride, Murray B

Researchers involved: 

  • Bonhotal, Jean F
  • McBride, Murray B

Organizations involved: 

  • N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation
  • N.Y. Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Penn State University
  • University of Maine
  • Pro-Dairy
  • Quality Milk Production Services
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Syracuse University Center of Finance
  • Iowa State University
  • Development Authority of the North Country
  • GreenThumb/NYC Parks
  • N.Y. Department of Health

International focus: 

  • United States of America
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Egypt
  • United Kingdom
  • India
  • Iraq
  • Mexico
  • Puerto Rico
  • Vietnam
  • British Virgin Islands
  • United States Virgin Islands

United States focus: 

  • New York
  • Puerto Rico