Sustainability at the University of Maryland


Students, faculty, and staff have many dining options on-campus and in the College Park area. Most on-campus options are provided by the University's own Dining Services but a few other shops, such as the Maryland Food Co-op, also provide healthy, local, and sustainable food choices.

At a Glance:

Past Initiatives:

Learn More:

Rooftop Garden - South Campus Dining Hall

The Rooftop Community Garden Club and Dining Services have developed a new food garden on the roof of the South Campus Dining Hall. The space will be open for individual gardening projects for any interested users, while also being a component of coursework and student research. Classes can tour the gardens and get hands-on experience related to course work. The produce will be primarily distributed among students and staff who maintain the gardens. Get involved!

Denton Dining

The University re-opened the Denton Dining Hall in the fall of 2011. This dining hall was originally designed and constructed in 1962; however, in 2001 a tornado damaged the building causing it to close. The Denton Dining Hall has undergone significant renovation and has achieved LEED Silver certification.

Some green features of the building include:

  • The reuse of at least 75 percent of existing building materials (floors, walls, and roof)
  • A greenroof for stormwater management and white roofing to improve building energy performance and reduce heat island effect
  • An energy efficient heating and cooling system
  • Energy efficient lighting
  • The use of natural skylights
  • An informational kiosk used to educate occupants on sustainability and the building’s sustainable practices
  • A trayless dining system

Read more here

Rooftop Garden - The Diner

The roof of the Ellicott Community Diner has become a model of urban agriculture, demonstrating that food can be grown just about anywhere. During summer 2010, students and Diner maintenance staff collaborated to build planters out of salvaged wooden pallets, rain barrels from salvaged 55 gallon soda barrels, and an irrigation system that collects HVAC condensate water. As of July 2010, the Roof Top Garden had grown peas, bok choi, mint, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sage, rosemary, oregano, dill, lavender, okra, basil, cucumbers, squash, and ornamental vines and flowers. The produce was distributed among the students and staff who have helped to build the garden and some produce was donated to the Maryland Food Collective in the basement of the Stamp Student Union to be used in their daily “hot specials.”

Farmer's Market

Several times a year, Dining Services and student groups collaborate to hold Farmer's Markets at Hornbake Plaza. These events feature local produce, handmade art and items, and live music.

Solar Water Heating

Solar hot water panels installed at Ellicott Dining Hall in early 2010 provide about 30 percent of the energy needed to pre-heat domestic water for the Diner. The system includes 20 panels with 3 solar storage tanks, pumps, temperature sensors, and controls. As Dining Services continues to install water saving devices, the percentage of solar-heated water used at the Diner will continue to increase.

Compostable Cary-Out

Dining Services launched its 2009 New Year’s Resolution to eliminate the use of Polystyrene foams in all non-licensed dining operations across campus. Take-out “clam-shell” containers were replaced with compostable containers made from bagasse – fibrous residue remaining after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed to extract their juice – and polystyrene hot and cold beverage and soup cups were replaced with compostable coated paper cups. This change translates to one million fewer polystyrene containers being added to the campus waste stream annually. In addition, Dining Services began an educational/information campaign to encourage students and the larger campus community to EAT-IN the dining halls rather than carry-out. This campaign resulted in a fifteen percent decrease in the number of carry-out containers used – way to go Dining Terps!

Compostable Catering Options

Dining Services offers customers the option of purchasing compostable plates, cups, forks, spoons, and knives for catered events. Major campus events including Maryland Day, the Student Affairs End of Year Celebration, and the SGA Spring Barbecue were served on compostable dinnerware. Dining Services provided receptacles for composting, for recycling, and for trash and ensured that the dinnerware and any food waste collected was composted.

Composting Waste

The Dining Services composting program continues to grow. The Adele Stamp Student Union was added in 2008 as the newest composting location on campus. Each of the food service operations in the Union participate in the pre-consumer food waste composting program. In the dining halls, pre- and post-consumer food waste is taken off campus daily and composted. The quantity of food waste going to compost grew from an average of 15 tons per month in FY2007 to 20 tons in FY2009. In addition, Dining Services has purchased food pulpers and hydro-extractors for its dishrooms in all residential dining halls. Dining Services tested two new pieces of composting equipment in the spring 2010 semester: a waste-to-water machine, piloted at the Diner, and a soil amendment machine, piloted at South Campus Dining. The waste-to-water machine adds water and an enzyme to compostable waste, so that it breaks down into a liquid that can be treated at wastewater treatment plants. The soil amendment machine transforms compostable waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used for the campus grounds. Ultimately, Dining Services is seeking a composting method that will be able to accommodate all compostable waste generated in its facilities.

Composting and Recycling

All used cooking oils are collected by a company that converts them to biodiesel. Dining Service staff, like their colleagues in the Division of Student Affairs, are diligent recyclers of cardboard, mixed paper, bottles, cans, motor oil, tires, batteries, fluorescent light tubes, refrigerants and other chemicals, scrap metals and toner cartridges.

Outdoor Environment

Dining Services switched to biodegradable cleaning products for any areas where the products could reach the outside environment. Containment devices were constructed to prevent cooking oils from leaking and entering the streams or stormwater collection. The department has converted or purchased over 1000 refrigeration systems to more environmentally friendly HCFC refrigerants.

Eliminated Bottled Water

Dining Services removed all bottled water from the resident dining halls in the fall semester, 2007 and installed complimentary triple filtered water stations for student use. "Bottled water is a popular and controversial product at universities," says Joe Mullineaux, Senior Associate Director of Dining Services. Mullineaux is delighted to see students saving money and reducing their environmental impact by refilling water bottles at the water stations. By reusing bottles, students are helping to reduce the over 22 billion water bottles that end up in landfills or incinerators each year and they are preventing greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting bottled water. Some people have concerns about the safety of tap water. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, municipal water systems are constantly and thoroughly tested for harmful substances. The triple filtration process used in the dining hall removes even more impurities, resulting in safe and refreshing water for campus diners.

Fair Trade Coffee

While it is difficult to track the amount of coffee purchased from commercial franchises on campus such as those in the Stamp Student Union food court, the University is better able to account for the coffee sold in campus operated facilities. Resident dining halls serve only fair trade coffee throughout the year and the independently worker-owned Maryland Food Collective (known on campus as the "Co-op") located in the basement of the Stamp Student Union sells approximately 1,400 pounds of coffee each year—100 percent of which comes from fair trade beans.

Waste Reduction

A number of measures have been taken to reduce the amount of waste generated in the dining facilities. Dining hall chefs cook food to order, which is operationally complex but results in higher food quality and dramatically reduces leftovers and waste. Napkins are located on dining room tables instead of the serving line resulting in a 50 percent reduction in usage and Micro-filtration techniques are used to extend the life of cooking oils - the use of those oils has been reduced by half. Paperwork has been reduced for the department as they have streamlined the accounting process and cut down on the number of paper copies required by the business office. Dining Services has evaluated the packaging of all its products from manufacturers. Many suppliers, including Pepsi and Frito Lay, are required to reuse packaging in which their products are delivered. Some products, such as ketchup and pickles, are purchased in pouch packages that are lighter in weight and use less material than traditional packaging. This reduces the amount of waste and the lighter weight saves fuel during shipping. Dining Services has set a requirement for suppliers to pick up and reuse wood shipping pallets.

Salvage and Reuse

While Dining Services strives to minimize un-sold leftovers, food that may not be efficiently reused in a timely method but is still safe for consumption is donated to the DC Central Kitchen for distribution to area homeless shelters. Excess equipment and supplies are sent to Terrapin Trader for sale or are recycled within the units. Footnotes Cafe in McKeldin Library was built entirely from equipment and supplies repaired or modified for the space. Half of the equipment used for expansion of the Commons Shop was reclaimed from other locations. Equipment that outlives its useful life and cannot be repaired is dismantled and components are recycled.

The Maryland Food Collective

Founded in 1975, the Co-op is a student owned and operated food store located in the basement of the Stamp Student Union. Besides being the best place on campus to find vegetarian and vegan food options, many food and products in the Co-op are organic and come from local growers/suppliers.

Public Education

Dining Services works with the Residence Hall Association and other student groups to provide information and education on recycling and environmental concerns in general as well as specifically encouraging the guests of the Dining Rooms to use china, glasses, and flatware while eating in the Dining Halls. In conjunction with its polystyrene phase-out, Dining Services began an educational/information campaign to encourage students and the larger campus community to eat in the dining halls rather than carry-out their food. Since then, the number of carry-out containers used across campus has decreased by 15 percent.

Solar Compactor

The Diner installed an outdoor solar trash compactor to replace overflowing trash cans. A detector inside the can tracks the trash level and initiates compaction cycles. The solar compactor can hold five times the volume of a standard trash can, requiring less attention so workers can focus on recycling efforts. The mechanism is powered entirely by the can’s self-contained solar array and can operate with low or indirect sunlight. Read more about it from the Diamondback.

St. Mary’s Garden

St. Mary’s Garden is located on the east side of the Language House (located in St. Mary’s Hall), just across from the ambulance entrance to the Health Center, and is run by the St. Mary’s Garden Club. It is an on-campus garden open to faculty, staff, students, and the University of Maryland community. It features ethnic plants and promotes sustainable agriculture through composting, organic farming principles, and use of a rain barrel and drip irrigation hose. The St. Mary’s Garden includes a compost bin to promote composting amongst students of St. Mary’s Language House. Visit the garden club's website here.

Reusable Cold Beverage Bottles

Partnering with Resident Life, Dining Services distributed 4,800 reusable cold beverage/water bottles to resident students in fiscal year 2009 for use at water stations and soda fountains in resident dining rooms, convenience shops, and other campus operations that accept dining plan points. When students refilled the bottle rather than use a to-go cup, they save twenty cents on the price of the beverage. Now, Dining Services is offering the reduced price with the use of any reusable mug or bottle in all of its locations across campus.


Green Dining Tips:

  • Eat less meat
  • Use reusable plates, cups, and utensils when eating in
  • Bring a reusable mug or water bottle
  • Pay attention to labels, some trash cans are specifically for compostables