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Sustainable food in action at the University of Cambridge!

The University Catering Service (UCS) have taken a lead on sustainable food issues at the University through a Sustainable Food Policy. However there are many other catering outlets at the University of Cambridge which don't fall under the control of the UCS, as well as the 31 Colleges at Cambridge which operate separately from the University. Many of them are taking significant and tangible action on sustainable food issues. In 2018 the College Catering Managers Committee agreed on their own CMC Sustainable Food Policy based closely on the UCS policy. On this page we've gathered some examples and case studies all about how sustainable food issues are being tackled around the University! Scroll down and expand the list to read more detail.

Update: Single-use plastics

The battle to reduce the use of single-use plastics has captured the nation's imagination and the University of Cambridge is doing its bit. Actions to reduce plastic are now also highlighted under the headings below!

Have a story to share with us?

If you are a member of staff or student at the University with more to add to this page, feel free to get in touch.

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

At CISL, the Green Impact team has done much work to gain a 'Gold' Green Impact award improving their environmental performance in the workplace significantly. They then determined that one of the big environmental impacts that the department had was its use purchase of food, particularly for events. The institute therefore initiated a ‘Sustainable Food At Work’ project which aimed to use food, and the interaction with food topics within the department, as a means of promoting sustainability. Work within this project included reinvigorating the departmental vegetable patch by surveying staff and recruiting 21 staff volunteers to work on the garden, reviewing internal food and beverage purchasing to ensure the use of 100% Fairtrade and organic products, drafting new sustainability guidance for staff booking catering at external events, and drafting guidance for external suppliers. You can download copies of their guidance here.

Cambridge Trust

The Cambridge Commonwealth European & International Trust are a Silver 'Green Impact' award winning team who work hard to address their environmental impact. During 'Spotlight on Food Month' the team hosted a visit by a member of Cambridge Sustainable Food to enlighten staff on a range of sustainable food issues. The team have also looked at utilising the small roof garden on their office. As well as a growbag for tomatoes and strawberries, there are now pots of salad leaves and broad beans, ready for staff to eat when the vegetables can be harvested. There is no direct water supply to the roof garden, but a collection of unwanted wastepaper bins have been roped in as water collectors! It is also paying off in terms of supporting wildlife - decorative plants such lavender and geraniums have been visited by bees (and even the odd slug or two has made an appearance - not such welcome visitors!). You can read more about this story on their website.

Christ's College
  • Two rounds of vegan cookery classes in 2017 and 2018, working with the Humane Society & SRA. These have been very popular with College chefs!
  • Christ’s held an all-vegetarian formal hall and a vegan / pescatarian formal in early 2017.

  • The College are continuing with 'Green Mondays' and also showing the low carbon meal on our cafeteria meals with a blue footprint.

  • The College are working towards the Green Impact awards for the first time.

  • Keep cups are available in the coffee shop.

  • No plastic water bottles are sold within the College; for conferencing, they have a yoghurt/fruit bar rather than providing individual yogurt pots.

Churchill College
  • Special vegetarian formal halls and high tables are run.

  • Discounts are given to people who re-use their own mugs in the Buttery.

  • Coffee waste is distributed to the college allotment and compost bins.

  • Students have started recycling food waste from their snack kitchens.

  • There is current work to reduce deliveries into the College from suppliers by condensing them into a multi-drop supply to reduce vehicle movement, with a report due at Christmas following full implementation.

  • The use of disposable containers is avoided as much as possible and where they are, only paper-based products are used.

  • Run a Green Society, which meets twice a term. 

  • Daily vegetarian option is provided. 

  • Reducing meat consumption is encouraged on their website. 

Clare College
  • Beef is only offered once per week for students during term time.

  • To reduce food waste, batch cooking is used wherever possible and leftover food is turned into new dishes.

  • The catering department is signed up to Sustainable Fish Cities Pledge to serve only sustainable fish.

  • Vegan and vegetarian food is offered at every meal as standard.

  • Clare College ran a 'Sustainable May Ball' in 2016. You can read more here.

  • All plastic cups have been removed from cafeteria and conference areas.

  • Recieved Platinum Award for overall environmental performance in 2018. 

  • Repositioned bins so that students recycle more. 

  • Clare College have won numerous Green Impact Awards over the past few years. 

  • 49% of meals brought in the Buttery were vegetarian/ vegan in 2016-2017. 

Corpus Christi College
  • The catering department is signed up to the Sustainable Fish Cities Pledge to serve only sustainable fish.

  • New initiatives will be launched following an 18-month project to change the way the kitchen operates.

  • Their efforts have been awarded with a Platinum Award from the Green Impact scheme. 

  • Each term, they run a week of “bring your own mug/cup” to help reduce use of disposables.
Downing College
  • All fish are MSC certified and have been for several years.

  • Eggs are free range and purchased from a local egg farmer in Suffolk.

  • Fresh produce (fruit, vegetables and meat) is all purchased through local suppliers, the farthest away being Saffron Walden.

  • Lunch and dinner services during term always offer a vegan option.

  • Occasionally all-vegetarian days are held for cafeteria service, and occasionally vegetarian/vegan formal halls.

  • A water filtration system has been installed which eliminates a huge number of bottles going to recycling or landfill.

  • Reduce food waste by means of better stock control and portion management. 

  • Operate waste management and recycling procedures. 

  • A large proportion of meat served is chicken/poultry.

  • An on-site herb garden is used extensively by the catering department.

  • Compostable coffee cups and lids are used, and KeepCups are also available

Homerton College
  • Achieved a Silver Cambridge Sustainable Food award for businesses Silver in September 2017.

  • 100% of food waste is sent for composting. While plate waste can't be composted, unserved food waste from the college kitchen is composted along with garden waste, and used on the college gardens. 

  • Red meat has been reduced from 42% of dishes on menus to 30%.

  • 100% of the livestock produce (meat, dairy, eggs) served is, as minimum, Red Tractor farm assured, or equivalent.

  • Apple juice made from the Homerton Orchard is sold in serveries.

  • Fairtrade tea, coffee, sugar, bananas, hot chocolate, smoothies and juices are sold.

  • Reusable glass bottled wattle is used for conferences and hall dinner to avoid using plastic bottles.

  • The catering department is signed up to the Cambridge Sustainable Fish Cities pledge to serve only sustainable fish.

  • Sustainable-themed ‘green’ formals have been run for the past few years.

  • Disposables cost extra to reduce use.

  • Bins have been separated with clear signage to encourage recycling. 

Hughes Hall
  • Meat options have been reduced from two to just one.

  • Vegetarian and vegan options have been added to menus.

  • Tea and coffee is Fairtrade across the college.

  • Plastic containers are being phased out and replaced with compostable alternatives.

  • 80% of fish served is MCS sertified sustainable.

Lucy Cavendish
  • Takeaway plates and cutlery made of plastic/polystyrene have been phased out and replaced by compostable products.

  • Vegan and vegetarian options are advertised first to draw attention to them.

  • Fish is MSC approved and fish suppliers constantly communicate sustainability rating and the best seasonal fish to purchase, and fish to avoid.

  • Where possible, meat, fish and fruit is seasonal and local.

  • Customers have to pay to use a disposable cup and this will soon be the case for takeaway containers, too.

  • Eco cleaning products have been introduced.

  • Actively promoting consumption of vegetarian meals and raising awareness of environmental issues.

Newnham College
  • Takeaway plates and cutlery made of plastic/polystyrene are being phased out and replaced by compostable products

  • Vegan and vegetarian options are advertised first to draw attention to them.

  • Fish is MSC approved and fish suppliers constantly communicate sustainability rating and the best seasonal fish to purchase, and fish to avoid.

  • Where possible, meat, fish and fruit is seasonal and local.

Madingley Hall / ICE

The Institute of Continuing Education and Madingley Hall have been doing much to champion sustainable food and green issues over the past few years, including a Sustainable Food Policy which was launched in 2014. This is due to be reviewed again shortly and will include sections on Palm Oil.

A few other highlights from the Institute's work are:

  • Green Impact Gold Award.

  • Sustainable Restaurants Association 3 Star Rating.

  • Signatory on Sustainable Food City Bid.

  • Signatory on Sustainable Fish City Bid.

  • Vegan and Vegetarian options available daily.

  • Low Carbon meals available daily.

  • Host of Local Food Fair in August 2016 highlighting local street food suppliers.

  • Working towards Soil Association Accreditation.

Pembroke College
  • Vegware has been in use since March 2017.

  • KeepCups have been introduced to reduce the use of disposable cups.

  • MSC certified fish, vegetarian and vegan options are offered in the servery.

  • Aims to serve seasonal, local or sustianable food whenever possible.

  • Increasing awareness of environmental responsibilities amongst Fellows, staff and students.

  • Local suppliers are used as much as possible for ingredients and product ranges (e.g. meat, fish, dairy, eggs and vegetables).

  • Only responsibly sourced fish and seafood priducts from a renewable source are used. Species considered to be endangered are not used. 

  • The college aims to support the local community and where possible employ services of local trades.

  • Waste is minimised where possible by ensuring procedures are as efficient as possible.

  • Packaging and food waste are recycled internally and amongst suppliers, and waste oil is collected.

  • Themed formal halls are run including Fairtrade, vegan and meat-free.

  • Fairtrade cofee and Rainforest Alliance tea are used. 

  • Free range eggs from Suffolk are used.

  • Signed up to the Sustainable Fish Cities Pledge.

  • Meat is Red Tractor Assured and comes from the local supplier Randwinter Wild Game.

  • Working to reduce and, where possible, remove the use of single-use plastic and other disposables.

  • Discounts offered to students who bring their own cups. Disposable cups that are used are biodegradable. 

Selwyn College
  • The catering department is signed up to the Sustainable Fish Cities Pledge and only uses fish with a sustainability rating of 1 to 3.

  • Local catering suppliers are used, with the furthest supplier being in Oxford.

  • Food waste is reduced by cooking in small batches and timing staff meals to use additional food.

  • A Vegetarian Food Forum is held to receive student feedback and ideas.

  • An active catering Facebook page is used to engage with customers, inform them about sustainable initiatives and receive feedback.

  • Local honey from Selwyn and Kings honeybees is used at High Table.

  • The catering department have received the Good Egg award for using cage-free eggs or egg products.

  • Innovative Longopac bins are used to reduce plastic bag waste.

  • Plastic bottled water has been replaced with refillable glass-bottle tap water for conference guests.

  • Recyclable and reusable takeaway containers are available to purchase and students can bring their own take away containers, plates or bowls.

  • Cooking oil is recycled into biofuel.

  • Energy efficient dishwashers and hotplates are used.

Sidney Sussex College
  • Beef and lamb use in food has been reduced by about 10%.

  • Meat Free Mondays are in place, with no negative impact on custom.

  • Packaging from suppliers is recycled as much as possible (e.g. cardboard from fruit and vegetables and egg boxes all go back to suppliers).

  • Any fish which is rated above 3 on MCS’s sustainability guide is avoided and will not appear on regular menus.

  • Vegan and vegetarian dishes are being developed by working closely with the student body and by sending chefs on vegetarian/vegan courses.

  • The kitchen is currently being refurbished to build a vegetarian area in the new cafeteria, along with a theatre-style cooking area for vegetarian/vegan dishes.

  • Fairtrade sugar and coffee used.

  • All eggs comply with the Good Egg Award Standard.

St John's College
  • St John's College have adapted their menus for the Buttery Dining Room, Formal Hall and Fellows to show the vegetarian dish first, above the meat dishes.
  • In the Buttery dining room the vegetarian dish is located first on the counter.
  • The College also have an insect chef coming in to work alongside the College's chefs, and will be looking at making some menu dishes from insects.
  • The College use plant-based cleaning chemicals, and are the first University College in England to use this product.
  • No plastic water bottles or straws are available within College.
  • Have good communication with suppliers.
  • Cereal bars, juices, bread and some other products are sourced locally.
  • Eggs are free range and from a farm in Hertfordshire.
  • Cardboard from delivery packaging is recycled.
  • All food packaging for sandwiches, salad and fruit pots are prepared on site and their nominated supplier of packaging is biodegradable.  
Wolfson College
  • MSC certified fish are served.

  • A vegetarian and vegan day is held at least once per term.

  • There is always a vegetarian and/or vegan main course on lunch and dinner.

  • A sustainable formal hall is held during term time.

  • Some of the kitchen food waste and students’ food waste is collected to on-site compost bin.

  • Waste oil is collected to be turned into biofuel.

  • Disposables are seldom used within College.
  • Have won Gold Green Impact Award.
  • Recycling bins for all types of waste.
Darwin College
  • Darwin College catering have created a Sustainability and Ethical Statement. This document informs and guides all catering operations

  • Each term, Darwin run a week where staff and students are encouraged to “bring your own mug/cup” to help reduce use of disposables, and discounts are given for reusable cups and a levy charged for compostable disposable cups.

  • Vegan meal offered at every lunch. 

  • Promote and use Fairtrade products. 

  • Meat, vegetables and fruit are locally sourced whenever possible. 

  • Only free range eggs are used. 

  • Food wate is composted in an effort to send no food waste to landfill. 

  • Encourage suppliers to use biodegradable packaging

  • The College also has a TerraCycle collection for crisps, toothpaste and biscuits recycling.

  • A wormery has been introduced to take some of the College's foodwaste to produce soil for the garden allotment.

  • Beehives have been introduced.

  • No single-use products are used in the servery now, after sourcing alternative products.

Fitzwilliam College
  • All plastic water bottles and cups are being replaced with glass in meeting rooms.

  • Fairtrade and Sustianability Formals are held. 

  • Food waste from kitchens is collected 6 days a week for recycling and composting. 

Girton College
  • Takeaway boxes cost extra; coffee and tea cost less if people use their own mugs.

Magdalene College
  • Plastic bottles are only available from a vending machine within college; takeaway boxes cost extra

  • KeepCups have been introduced.

  • Students are encouraged to buy food with less packaing.

  • Reducing water consumption.

Robinson College
  • Disposables cost extra; campaign being launched to encourage use of reusable water bottles and coffee cups.

  • Has extensive recyling system.

  • Menus inclue seasonal food and aims to reduce meat and dairy products.

  • Exclude 'at risk' fish species.

  • Use more local suppliers.

  • Plan to implement a Food Ethics Policy which gives general guidance on sustainable measures to be adopted in food purchasing and preparation.

St Catherine's College
  • Discounts on bringing own tupperware for takeaway items, speaking to suppliers to help reduce plastic from deliveries, larger containers rather than bottles of milk.

  • Gardening Society grow fruit and vegetables on the College owned allotment in Grantchester.

Trinity Hall
  • Signs encourage students to use their own cups and bottles particularly by the water dispensers.

  • Aim to use seasonal and locally produced products wherever possible.

  • All fish served is MCS certified.

  • The College is a member of the Sustainable Fish Cities group.

  • All tea and coffee is Fairtrade.

  • Products containing palm oil or soya are sustainably sourced.

  • Reduced the amount of ruminant meat on offer and have adopted Meat Free Mondays in the cafeteria. 

  • Vegetarian and vegan options are offered as standard.

  • Working to reduce the use of single use plastic.

  • All disposable packaging and coffee cups are either biodegradable or recyclable.

  • Offer KeepCups in the coffee shop and offer discounts to those who use it.

  • Range of recycling bins are available to encourage recycling.

  • Encourage environmental awareness among employees.

Queens' College
  • Operate a Vegetarian/ Vegan week once a term in the cafeteria for lunch and dinner.   
  • New menus being devised to reduce the amount of red meat used in the cafeteria menus. 
  • Working toward introducing a reusable cup and container system for all students and staff, which will reduce the amount of takeaway containers used in College - due to take place in Michaelmas Term 2018.
  • Takeaway plates and cutlery made of plastic/polystyrene are being phased out and replaced by compostable products.
  • Filtered water used for all student college events, formal halls and cafeteria service.
  • Only MSC/sustainable fish is purchased currently - Signing up to the sustainable fish cities pledge.
  • Waste oil is collected to be turned into biofuel.
  • All student gyp rooms have recycling facilities.
  • Have an environmental committee meeting once a term with the JCR / MCR representatives.
  • All supplier packaging is sent for recycling / re use where possible

In addition the College is to install two electric car charging points in 2018.

Clare Hall
  • Food waste bins have been introduced to seven of the student houses for a four month trial, starting in March 2019. 
  • China mugs are provided near the coffee machine, and the introduction of KeepCup has meant that no disposaples are needed or available. 
Emmanuel College
  • Working on reducing per capita consuption of water.
  • Promote recycling, and responsibly disposing non-recyclable waste. 
  • Students are given cotton shopping bags to reduce use of plastic bags
King's College
  • Committed to reducing the volume of waste within their estate by reducing consumption, re-using and recycling all materials. 
  • Meals are labelled so consumers are aware of which meals produce least carbon emissons. 
  • Use Fairtrade products.
  • They use One Water, which supports building of water well and clean water tanks in Africa, and Puro coffee, which supports projects to save the South American rainforest. 
  • 15 allotments are available for students/ gardeners to grow their own local food.
Murray Edwards College
  • Reducing waste by turning left over food into new dishes. Food waste which cannot be used in this way is sent for bio-digestion resulting in the production of fuel and fertilisers.
  • Biodegradable take away boxes are available.
St Edmund's College
  • Actively encouraging recycling within the College.