students working on compost recycling



Several composting options are available on campus:

  • The compost piles at the Garden and Farm House are on-site options that can accept small amounts of food scraps, not including animal products.
  • The food waste left on people’s plates in the Dining Hall is pulped, dewatered, and sent to Grinnell Heritage Farm for composting.
  • Green RU collects the material placed in green or orange compost bins around campus to its Eddyville, Iowa, location, where it is industrially composted. This material undergoes aerated or turned windrow composting, which can accommodate large amounts of diverse types of waste.
  • SGA’s Student Environmental Committee has also provided small orange containers for students to borrow to store compost waste in their rooms before bringing it to the larger orange bins in the loggias.

Before placing an item in one of the green or orange compost bins, please check the sign above or on the lid to determine if it is industrially compostable.

Currently, the to-go containers, cups, and utensils from the Dining Hall are industrially compostable, so please dispose of them in the green or orange compost bins around campus.

If you know an item is both recyclable and compostable — compost it!

Learn more about different composting methods from the EPA.


Grinnell College Facilities Management hauls our recycling waste to the city’s recycling center. A third-party waste company transports the material to a facility in Cedar Rapids.

How to recycle at Grinnell:

  • Do not assume that an item is recyclable. Even if an item is usually recyclable back home, that does not mean it is necessarily collected at Grinnell. Please check the signs above the recycling bins to find out if your item can be recycled here.
  • Rinse out dirty containers, so that most of the remaining food or drink contents are removed from the sides. This helps prevent the paper and cardboard that’s placed in the same recycling bin from being contaminated and sent to the landfill.
  • If you want to recycle a hard plastic item, check that it has a triangle with the numbers 1 or 2. This symbol is often at the bottom of plastic containers.
  • Recycle your plastic bags at the designated cardboard boxes in Younker, Cowles, Norris, Rose, Main, and Loose halls.
  • Glass is not recyclable in Grinnell.

Why does Grinnell only accept plastics 1 and 2?

In the past, most of the United States’ recyclable material was sent overseas, and most of that to China. However, the quality of the material from the United States wasn’t very good. According to the State of Washington Department of Ecology, “Most of the overseas markets have closed. Domestic markets are limited and demand a higher quality of material.” The value of certain materials and the cost of recycling them have also changed over time. Plastics 1 and 2 are currently the only ones with an available market. Learn more about where U.S. plastic waste goes.

Why doesn’t Grinnell recycle glass?

Until 2019, Grinnell recycled glass in cooperation with the town of Grinnell, which used a waste management service in Des Moines. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other logistical and political issues abroad, the international recycling markets in China (the main purchaser of our waste) changed dramatically. Chinese markets have reduced the amount and types of recycling being accepted. While the city of Grinnell had to completely stop curbside recycling pickup, the College sends its recyclables to the city’s recycling center, where a third-party waste company picks up the material and transports it to a facility in Cedar Rapids. This sorting facility, also affected by the factors mentioned above, cannot accept glass or plastics #3–7. Although we are still able to recycle some materials, the remaining recycling markets are still very limited, so much of the accepted recycling material is never used and ends up in a landfill. Thus, the very best option remains to reduce consumption.

Where to take your glass: The Grinnell Redemption Center at 132 West Street only accepts glass that has a five-cent deposit. This mainly includes beer bottles.


The College’s landfill waste is hauled to a transfer station and then transported to the landfill in Tracey, Iowa. The landfill used to be a coal mine and is therefore an old brownfield site.

Reducing Waste by Using Less

Ultimately, the best action to reduce waste is to use less!

Please limit single-use containers and items. Even if they are compostable or recyclable, the process of producing, shipping, and repurposing these items uses a lot of energy and resources.

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