FRESH Tour of Clemson’s Cherry Crossing Research Facility

August 3, 2020

By Kristy Pickurel

Large green garbage cans lined up for use for compost.Clemson University’s Recycling Services department manages a compost site which processes food waste from campus. The site is located at the Cherry Crossing Research Facility. Just like the rest of us it has been greatly impacted by COVID-19, but work at the site has not stopped. Student interns Matthew Lawrence and Jared Montgomery were kind enough to give FRESH a tour of the facility earlier this spring.

Food scraps, paper towel waste and yard waste are generated and collected on campus in green composting bins. Clemson’s recycling staff picks the bins up and takes them to the Cherry Crossing facility, where the organic waste is dumped onto a bed of wood chips. The chips and waste are mixed thoroughly to create a pile.

This mixture then undergoes a 6-week process of progressing piles, ending with the cure pile, which is loaded into a trommel and sifted into the final product of sifted compost. The sifted compost can be land applied or used as soil amendment. The compost piles are turned every other day to make sure they are aerated properly and decomposing as quickly as they can.

Clemson’s composting program began with a $25,000 grant from the South Carolina DHEC Office of Waste & Recycling, which allowed the university to purchase an in-vessel composter that is still in use today. An alternative to the manual process just described, the composter processes waste much more quickly. Waste and wood chips are combined in the unit’s mixer and then sent to the tumbler. The tumbler rotates once every hour and helps to accelerate the process.

Cherry Crossing’s final compost product is used by campus landscaping as well as the student organic farm. This past year a large majority went to Musser Fruit Farm, Clemson’s fruit research farm. The compost is also typically sold to the community, but sales were suspended at the time of our tour. With Clemson’s campus shutting down as a result of the pandemic, there had been an extreme shortage of food waste produced from campus. Before the campus closed due to COVID-19, the recycling staff was picking up about 48 bins per day. Now they’re only collected an average of 10 bins a week.

Aside from the effects of the pandemic, the composting program’s biggest challenge is contamination, i.e. items that can’t be composted being placed in the composting bins. These include film plastics such as plastic bags and saran wrap, as well as metal forks and plastic cups from the dining halls. According to Lawrence, Clemson’s composting program was constantly expanding until the virus hit. Since he began interning with the program in November of 2019, composting bins have been placed in two new POD (provisions on demand) markets on campus. The team has also started a community garden at the Cherry Crossing facility and hopes to begin distributing the fruits of its plants in the near future.

For more information on Clemson’s composting and recycling programs, please visit the Clemson Website.

The mission of the Sonoco FRESH initiative is to have a major impact on the safety, security and sustainability of food. This means looking holistically at the food life cycle and identifying opportunities that reimagine processes, technologies and behaviors. More information on the Sonoco FRESH initiative can be found at

Visit the FRESH YouTube Channel to view a video of the tour.