Dorm cafeterias to go trayless

University Dining Services is aiming to reduce water usage and food waste by eliminating the trays at the end of August.

by Clarise Tushie-Lessard

There’s often an anxiety among first-year students of doing something embarrassing during their first few days at the University, like spilling a cup or dropping a plate in the cafeteria.

That anxiety just got more real.

Starting at the end of August, the University’s residence hall restaurants will go trayless – meaning students will have to carry plates, silverware and cups in their hands.

The move, according to University Dining Services representatives, is meant to save water and reduce food waste, and is part of a trend among higher education institutions to shift away from trays.

UDS tested going trayless on Earth Day last semester.

“I think that trays are kind of a practical necessity,” Anthony Averbeck , a student who was part of the Earth Day experiment at Middlebrook Hall , said. “I think that it’s a good cause, they’re doing it for a good reason, but the downsides to it I think far outweigh the possible environmental message.”

Averbeck, an architecture sophomore, said taking away the trays meant greater difficulty in gathering food, and many more trips to the buffet.

“It kind of added to the congestion, made it just kind of not flow as well as it normally does,” he said.

But UDS said the more students have to go back to get food, the less they take, which cuts down on food waste.

According to UDS analysis after the Earth Day experiment, eliminating trays cut down on 1.5 ounces of food waste per person per meal, which at the end of the day totaled 314 pounds among the six residence hall dining facilities.

UDS also said eliminating trays will cut down drastically on the use of water and chemicals used to clean the trays, as well as the energy used to run the washing machines.

According to Aramark , which manages dining services on campus, it takes about a half gallon of water to clean a tray once, a number incoming first-year student Ryan Below finds hard to believe.

“You could probably wash like 10 trays with a half gallon,” Below said.

But UDS Associate Director Karen DeVet said a half gallon is an accurate amount.

“We utilize, in most cases, rather large Ö dishwashing machines, and water is continuously cycling throughout those,” she said. “[The number is] based on manufacturer information and studies that we’ve done in a couple of cases around the country.”

Aramark recommended institutions introduce the program in the fall, when first-year students and transfer students would have no experience with trays on campus and would more easily accept the situation.

“They’re smart for starting with the freshmen,” Below said. “I haven’t experienced it yet, so I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Below said he understood the desire to be more environmentally friendly.

“You don’t need a tray, you need a plate,” he said. “So what if you have to take a few more trips?”

DeVet said UDS did not keep count of how many trays it had or how much money the program will save with reduced food waste.

“Trayless dining is not a cost-saving initiative,” she said. “Our goal is to reduce the environmental impact of the campus dining program.”

The policy also makes sense to Terry Gips, president of Minneapolis-based Alliance for Sustainability , and not just for its resource-saving mission.

“It also makes sense from the standpoint of people’s health, because Americans overeat,” Gips said .

DeVet said UDS has several other environmental initiatives, including organic composting, biodegradable packaging and recycling.

“I know the University has already begun looking at a number of aspects in terms of sustainability, but I think that there’s lots more that can be done,” Gips said.

DeVet said the trays will either be “deployed in other areas for use,” recycled or donated to interested groups in the community.