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The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.

Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 67.06
Liaison Allie Schwartz
Submission Date April 14, 2015
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

Columbia University
OP-25: Hazardous Waste Management

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 1.00 / 1.00 Chris Pettinato
Executive Director
Environmental Health & Safety
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution have strategies in place to safely dispose of all hazardous, special (e.g. coal ash), universal, and non-regulated chemical waste and seek to minimize the presence of these materials on campus?:

A brief description of steps taken to reduce hazardous, special (e.g. coal ash), universal, and non-regulated chemical waste:

Columbia University has implemented several processes to reduce waste volumes. Columbia University has a robust solvent recycling program for alcohol, xylene, acetone and ethanol at the Morningside campus. Electronics, batteries, scrap film are recycled. Mercury-containing thermometers are exchanged for nonmercury thermometers in laboratories. Mercury-containing dental amalgam is filtered from the wastewater at Columbia University maintained faculty practices and clinics through the use of dental amalgam separators with a rate of over 99% efficiency. Silver halide is filtered from wastewater at all Columbia maintained dark rooms through silver recovery traps.

Re-usable sharps collection containers are employed at most locations generating sharp waste. The containers are recycled up to 500 times thus reducing plastic in landfills. Chemically contaminated glassware is crushed prior to disposal as nonhazardous waste thus reducing the total volume.

Additionally, EH&S organizes several working groups to review safety and waste practices including the Chemical Tracking System Committee and the Environmental Management System (EMS) Steering Committee.

A brief description of how the institution safely disposes of hazardous, universal, and non-regulated chemical waste:

Columbia University has a strict no drain disposal policy which prohibits the discharge of hazardous, radioactive, mixed and nonhazardous waste down any drain on any campus. Additionally, the University only utilizes vendors that have gone through a rigorous preferred vendor process. This process includes a thorough regulatory compliance paperwork review, documentation archiving and in many cases an onsite audit. The University emphasizes disposal options that reduce our overall impact on the environment such as preferring: recycling, fuel blending or incineration to landfill disposal methods. Numerous training sessions are preformed throughout the year to advise researchers on how to properly manage their resulting waste streams. Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S ) also offers monthly safety classroom training sessions as required for laboratory personnel that includes proper disposal procedures.

A brief description of any significant hazardous material release incidents during the previous three years, including volume, impact and response/remediation:


A brief description of any inventory system employed by the institution to facilitate the reuse or redistribution of laboratory chemicals:

Environmental Health & Safety at Columbia University implemented the chemical tracking system (CTS) on the Morningside Campus in 2006. This system allows Columbia to maintain compliance with federal, state and city environmental regulations and hazardous waste minimization. It has been largely achieved through efficient and appropriate use of the system.
Columbia University has selected the ChemTracker Consortium as the CTS tool. Chemical tracking is managed at the point of receipt of chemicals to the campus. Chemical receiving is centralized at two locations. Chemical shipments from vendors are bar-coded by dedicated personnel in these two locations. Bar-coded chemicals are delivered to laboratories or the chemicals are picked up by lab staff. One requirement of the system is that empty chemical bottles are needed to be discarded in designated waste receptacles so that bar code information can be retrieved and inventories adjusted accordingly. ChemTracker allows researchers to monitor their own chemical inventories on-line and reduce redundant purchases.
Principal Investigators are permitted to view their own departmental inventories trough the CTS. They can check peer’s inventories when they need to transfer chemicals to their lab which minimizes ordering excessive chemicals.
EH&S may receive emails from researchers, search the system, and send information back to researchers to contact and borrow the chemicals. It has been very successful and researchers use this function to full capacity and are able to reduce excessive chemical inventories. Further, this allows the reduction of chemical purchases and inventories.
EH&S requests that laboratories send unused chemicals to the EH&S surplus lab. This list is forwarded to researchers, allowing them to pickup surplus chemicals on a first come, first serve basis. The program is successful enough in that the surplus laboratory is virtually empty at the end of each work day.

In 2001, an on-site recycling program was initiated for spent xylene and ethanol used in laboratories allowing the chemicals to be returned for use over and over again. Over the years acetone and methanol have been added to the program for recycling. After many years and many thousands of gallons, the program is running strong and maintaining green benefits, both environmental and financial.

Additional information on Solvent Recycling:

Does the institution have or participate in a program to responsibly recycle, reuse, and/or refurbish all electronic waste generated by the institution?:

Does the institution have or participate in a program to responsibly recycle, reuse, and/or refurbish electronic waste generated by students?:

A brief description of the electronic waste recycling program(s):

The University has collection points at each campus for electronic waste generated by the institution. Materials generated institutionally are brought to the Facilities-maintained storage areas for consolidation and disposal through a vetted recycler on a regular schedule. This disposal occurs at least monthly at the NYC campuses and as needed at the satellite campuses. Additionally, the University hosts a semi-annual recycling event at multiple campuses where used electronic waste collection centers are set at the campus level, which generates a large amount of e-waste.

University supplied electronic mobile devices are collected for recycling by CUIT.

Through Columbia’s Surplus Reuse program, departments can find a matching recipient to receive old working computers to keep them out of the landfill. Computers are matched to other units within Columbia and to local, community organizations partnered with Columbia Community Service. Additionally, several departments have donated computers to various non-profit organizations.

Students can drop-off for reuse old working computers less than 5 years old with their power supply 10am-6pm Monday through Friday at 202 Philosophy. Students must first run DBAN to wipe their hard drives before donation.

A brief description of steps taken to ensure that e-waste is recycled responsibly, workers’ basic safety is protected, and environmental standards are met:

All Facilities workers handling potentially hazardous materials are given annual training on how to handle specific wastes, such as electronic wastes. The training includes a technical element and a safety element. Electronic waste is delivered by Facilities (or in certain cases, the departments generating e-waste) to the collection points at each campus. The material is consolidated, placed into shipping containers, manifested, and shipped by a vetted vendor. The vendor’s downstream facilities are scrutinized for environmental, safety and social responsible operations by EH&S prior to signing any contract with vendor.

The website URL where information about the institution’s hazardous and electronic-waste recycling programs is available:

Additional information about hazardous materials reduction and recycling is available at:
Battery Recycling:
Electronic Recycling:
Lab Glassware Recycling: http://ehs.columbia.edu/RecycleGlassware.html
Lamp/Light Bulb Recycling:
Mercury Recycling:
Sharps Recycling:
Silver Recovery: http://ehs.columbia.edu
Solvent Recycling:
Radioactive Waste Management:
Hazardous Waste management by Campus: http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/5LAll.html
Drain Disposal Policy:
EH&S Safety Committee:
EH&S Safety Training Options:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.