A digester tank at the Gundersen Envision facility. Photo by Trina La Susa.
A digester tank at the Gundersen Envision facility. Photo by Trina La Susa.

Did you know that Americans waste an average of one pound of food per person per day? Reducing waste and saving money starts by taking only as much food as you need and eating your leftovers. Reusable containers like those offered by UW Dining’s Ticket to Takeout program can help you do just that. Meanwhile, our compost system is a crucial component of waste handling at the UW–Madison.  Below we offer information about where and how to compost on campus. If you’d like to learn about home compost, scroll to the bottom of the page!

Compost allows the UW–Madison to turn its food waste stream into a resource

Waste and Recycling staff from Facilities Planning & Management collect food scraps from locations across campus (see map below) and transport them to a biodigester operated by our partner, Gundersen Envision.

Compost Sign
Click to download a full-sized copy of this waste bin sign.

These food scraps are combined with cow manure from local dairy farms as well as compost material from other sources. The digestion process produces biogas, which Gundersen harnesses to generate electricity, as well as liquid fertilizer and solid compost, both of which are used as soil amendments to grow food.

The UW West Madison Agricultural Research Station processes non-food organic material from campus, including manure and bedding from animal science facilities and plant materials from greenhouses and landscaping.

What can I put in a UW–Madison compost collection bin?

  • Food products
    • Meat and dairy
    • Fats, oils, and grease
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Breads, grains, and pasta
    • Coffee grounds and filters, tea bags
  • Soiled paper products
    • Napkins and paper towels
    • Paper cups, bowls, and take-out containers


  • Pizza boxes
  • Bones
  • “Compostable” plastic bags, cups, containers, and silverware
    • Note: even if it says “compostable” or “biodegradable”, the biodigester cannot break down any plastics – these should go in the trash bin
  • Metals and Ceramics
    • Silverware, cans, dishes
  • Plastics
    • Bags, food wrappers, Styrofoam
  • Wood
    • Chop sticks, stir sticks, bamboo products
  • Yard waste
    • Leaves, sticks, soil, and sand

Composting Video

Compost Locations on Campus

The UW–Madison collects food waste from residence halls, dining halls, student Unions, Union-operated cafés, the UW Hospital, some athletic facilities, and some academic buildings.

If you are interested in collecting food waste in a building where collection is not currently available, the Compost Stewards program may be able to help. Please contact us with questions.

Click and zoom through our custom Google Map to find compost locations on the UW–Madison campus. Click the button in the upper left corner of the map (next to “UW–Madison Composting Locations”) to view the key for the different types of compost sites. Note: locations subject to change.

What about food waste from home?

Students, faculty, staff, and visitors are welcome to dispose of food waste from meals eaten on campus in compost collection bins on campus. The UW–Madison does not accept additional food waste brought from home. If you are interested in composting food waste from your home, consider the following options:

  • Drop off your food scraps at one of three collection points run by the City of Madison. You can learn more here.
  • Set up your own compost system. Decide if a backyard or vermicompost system fits best with your available space and volume of food scraps. The UW–Extension Master Composter Program offers resources and support.
  • Compost your food scraps at a community garden. Find a garden near you. Ask the garden coordinator if you could bring your food scraps to the compost pile and/or help maintain the compost pile.
  • Work with a private food waste collection service. Local options include Curbside Composter and Earth Stew Compost Services.