Reuse & Recycling

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Trayless Dining

Columbia Dining went trayless in all dining halls in Fall 2009. Removing 1,400 trays has resulted in an estimated savings of 3,000 gallons of water per day and approximately 50 pounds of food waste per meal. Less food waste means that more unserved food is available for City Harvest, a non-profit agency whose mission is to end hunger in New York City and the surrounding boroughs.


In Spring 2012, an in-vessel composter suitable for urban use began operating at Ruggles Hall on the Morningside Campus. Dining works with EcoReps and residents of GreenBorough to provide 20 gallons of food scraps each day. Four days each week, two EcoReps place scraps and two gallons of wood chips into the composter; two GreenBorough residents take over on the fifth day. One and a half 96-gallon bins of compost from one year’s activity were delivered to the Community Garden on Pupin Plaza.

John Jay Dining Hall currently composts all of its leftover organic waste, as well as the paper napkins and compostable cups it uses. In an average week, the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) collects 6,500 pounds of food waste from John Jay Dining Hall by rerouting one of its public school pickup routes to John Jay.

The Doe Fund

Columbia Dining recovers and recycles about 4,000 gallons of cooking oil annually through The Doe Fund, whose Ready, Willing and Able program trains men for future employment – and gives them immediate employment in picking up cooking oil from restaurants and other dining locations. They then work with METRO Biofuels to recycle the oil into biodiesel fuel.

Surplus Goods

Columbia Dining and University Event Management donate surplus kitchen equipment, including pots, pans, dishware, restaurant equipment, tables and chairs to YES! Solutions, a local agency.  These goods are distributed in the five boroughs of New York City.

Service Items

The estimated 6.6 million napkins used annually in Columbia Dining are made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled content.  Biodegradable plates, bowls, hot cups, and flatware are used in all dining areas except John Jay.  Reusable dishes, utensils and cups are used in John Jay Dining Hall. In 2018, Columbia Dining transitioned to 100% compostable paper straws and plant based cold cups.

Reusable Containers

Columbia Dining provides reusable eco-containers for to-go food. Students on a meal plan receive a free token to exchange for an eco-container. The American-made, polypropylene containers are microwave and dishwasher safe, with microbial protection to control stains and odor-causing bacteria. At the end of their useful life, the containers are recyclable.

At all Columbia Dining Blue Java Coffee Bar retail locations, customers who purchase a reusable mug receive a discount on coffee or tea purchased using the mug. Students and staff receive coffee refills for 99 cents, whatever the size of the mug.

Bottles, Cans, Cardboard

Dining  recycles more than one million bottles and cans as well as more than 150,000 cardboard boxes each year.