Composting at UCSB

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UCSB has an impressive composting infrastructure that is getting better every day. We have programs in place that process compostable waste both on and off-site, and a large portion are nearly invisible to the campus community as a whole. Like recycling, several departments all play a role in composting waste.

By the way, did you know that the UCen uses compostable cups, plates, utensils, and many other items? Anything you get from Romaine’s, Root 217, or Starbucks in the UCen or anything you receive with food prepared at UCSB (as opposed to chip bags and bottled drinks) from Coral Tree, Courtyard Cafe, or the Arbor can be composted. Soon, ALL food vendors at UCSB will be using compostable items!

Compost Drop-Off Bins

Anyone at UCSB can use one of our compost drop-off bins for any food and compostable products! Most are large units with yellow doors, but some look just like our recycling bins on campus (except for the label of course!) This compost is added to our commercial compost pickup (see Dining Commons and UCen composting below).

Here is a complete list of our compost bin locations. For a map of these locations, click here. The yellow rectangles indicate compost bin locations.

Family Housing Compost

Both Storke and West Campus Family Housing complexes have their own on-site composting programs! Residents should drop off their kitchen food waste in the igloo-shaped bins located near the garden plots, and Department of Public Worms staff will mix it in with the actual composting piles at a controlled rate. To avoid pests, pathogens and odors, please do not put meat, dairy, or oils in the bins. Once a pile has finished composting, it will be turned over to the residents for use in their gardens!


Department of Public Worms students pick up food scraps from the Ortega, Carillo, and De La Guerra Dining Commons kitchens and feed it to thousands of red wriggler composting worms. These worms turn unwanted food scrap into amazing compost and liquid fertilizers that can noticeably improve your plants. See our page on Worm Tea Sales for more information on how you can benefit from our efforts!

Grounds to Grounds

Grounds to Grounds is another major on-site composting program. Facilities grounds staff collect buckets of used coffee grounds and filters from the campus coffee carts each day and add them straight into the campus landscaping beds where they break down quickly and add plenty of nitrogen to the soil! You may have heard that coffee grounds are too acidic to be used directly like this, but in reality almost all of the acid is washed out during the brewing process. This very simple program composts about 2 tons of coffee grounds each month, with huge peaks during finals week of course.

Composting at the Dining Commons and UCen

Our on-site composting programs collectively divert about 5 tons of food waste from landfills each month. That may seen like a lot, but it’s nothing in comparison to the quantity of food waste being generated at the Housing and Residential Services Dining Commons and at the UCen. Both departments compost all scraps from the kitchen (peels, stems, the parts that don’t make it onto your plate). The Dining Commons also compost everything you send back to be cleaned after you are finished. Several outlets at the UCen, such as Root 217, Romaine’s, and NIcoletti’s, have converted to all compostable products and more are following.

Collectively, these two departments compost about 90 tons of food waste every month. We are in no way equipped to deal with quantities this large on campus, so all Dining Commons (other than the small portion that we take for the worms) and UCen food waste is picked up once a week by Marborg and taken to a commercial composting facility in Santa Maria, Engel & Gray.

There are several advantages to using a commercial composting facility. Most importantly, Engel & Gray allows us to compost almost 20 times as much food waste as we would otherwise be able to handle on site, and therefore makes us one of the better composting campuses in the country. It also allows us to compost a wider variety of material– meat, dairy and oils are not a problem for a large scale facility but can cause huge issues in a small system. Engel & Gray’s 90-day cycle (as opposed to the 45-day cycle most facilities use) lets us use compostable plates, utensils, and other items and be assured that they will completely break down.