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  • State of Compost
  • Organic Waste
  • Zero Waste Compost campaign

Organic Waste Separated from Trash


Compost soil produced from organic waste

As part of our commitment to sustainability and carbon neutrality, American University’s goal is to send zero waste to landfills and incinerators. By conducting routine campus waste audits, we have determined that organic waste represents 45 percent of our campus waste. Your help and full participation in AU’s organic waste collection process is critical to achieve AU’s zero waste goal.

The State of Compost

Currently, American University sends contaminated organic waste to landfills. We are unable to send it to the only locally-operating commercial organic composting facility – located in Prince George’s County – because of their zero contamination tolerance policy. Our goal is to be able to send all of our non-contaminated organic waste to the composting facility. To achieve this goal, we need the university community’s full participation in ensuring our waste is entirely sorted so that we have a non-contaminated organic waste stream. You are the single most important factor influencing our success, as it will require our entire campus community to change our behavior.


This summer, Facilities Management made substantial improvements to AU’s composting efforts by modifying the organic waste compactor and dining services loading dock area for better management and sorting of waste from TDR and Mary Graydon Center. This area will be one of the first to start composting again with the P.G. County compost facility when it is deemed to be a pure stream without contamination. AU will then continue to phase in organics from campus once each collection site is deemed clean of contamination.

Education is one of the most critical components of composting. Consequently, we trained incoming students at community showcase and breakfast check-in sessions during orientation this past summer. AU also worked with students to form a Student Zero Waste Club, which tackles issues such as student move-out waste and reduction of contamination in our organic waste bins. While we train, educate, and engage, we still need to work harder to achieve our goal of contaminate-free waste stream.

In 2012, the composting facility that received food organic waste from AU was shut down abruptly by Maryland’s Department of the Environment. The only remaining alternative was a large commercial compost facility in Peninsula, Delaware, where AU sent its organics until 2014 when this facility also was shut down. Fortunately, prior to the Delaware composting facility closing, AU was accepted to be part of a small pilot program for food-waste composting in Prince George’s County, MD. Unfortunately, the closing of the compost facility in Delaware put greater pressure on the P.G. County compost facility to accept higher volumes of waste from the region than before. As a result, the Maryland facility no longer could accept contaminated waste. Our option remains open at the P.G. County site once we are able to send contamination-free organics from campus.

AU continues to search for additional potential options. However, we must recognize that our composting goals can be achieved only if everyone plays a part in keeping the bins contamination free. By sorting waste properly, we can help AU remain a leader in composting and campus sustainability.

Besides being one of the few universities in the country to pilot a campus-wide organic waste collection program – in addition to our recycling programs - we are setting up the framework to become a national model for large-scale organic collection and composting to other universities and large corporations As a result of our model status, AU participated in the “Path to Zero Waste” event, hosted by Mayor Muriel Bowser, where the need for more local composting infrastructures in the region was discussed.

American University is a leader in sustainability. And as leaders, it is our collective duty to solve the current contamination issue together. Organic collection is just one of the many sustainable initiatives at AU. Our pioneering sustainability peer education program has hosted the only environmental educators’ conference of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic. Learn more about AU’s sustainability programs and how you can help. Take a few minutes to reflect on your ability to contribute positively to AU’s zero waste goal.

Compost Circle: The life cycle of compost

What can I put in my organic waste bin?

  • All pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste including dairy, deli, seafood, bread, frozen food, meat, bones, poultry, produce, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags 
  • Wood-Based Products: coffee stirrers, chopsticks, toothpicks, cotton-tips
  • Wet/Soiled Paper: waxy beverage cups, sandwich wrappers, placemats, coin wrappers, receipts. Note: Please recycle all dry, clean paper in the blue, mixed-paper recycling bin 
  • Wet/Soiled Cardboard: greasy pizza boxes, wet cardboard food containers 
  • Paper-Based Materials: egg cartons, fruit trays, napkins, paper towels, tissues, milk cartons 
  • Labeled Compostable: bags, cups, to-go containers, dishware, utensils


  • Absolutely NO glass. It is important to leave glass out of the organic waste bin because when this waste is sent to a composting facility, glass can break and be incorporated into the compost. It is difficult to screen glass out of the compost and can be a safety hazard. However, glass can be recycled in our green Plastic-Metal-Glass bin. 
  • Plastic is not organic and does not degrade in the composting process. However, plastic can be recycled and our program accepts #1-7 plastics. Please recycle plastic products in the green Plastic-Metal-Glass bin. 
  • Metal also is not organic and is not compostable. Please recycle your metal and aluminum in the green Plastic-Metal-Glass bin. 
  • Batteries, Electronic waste, medical waste,