On any given day, dining hall trays are piled high with pizza, macaroni and cheese, salad, soda, cereal, soft serve and chocolate chip cookies. But much of this food often ends up in the trash.
To combat this waste problem, the University is making a push for trayless dining in campus residence halls. The initiative — that started as a trial in East Quad Dining Hall last year — has been implemented in the Betsy Barbour Dining Hall, will soon be in place at Twigs Dining Hall at Oxford Housing and will officially be part of East Quad Residence Hall dining in fall 2013.
The efforts are part of the University’s 14-year plan for a greener campus, which University President Mary Sue Coleman announced on Sept. 27. All future dining halls being built or remodeled will incorporate the trayless dining concept.
“Using a tray often means taking more food – and some of that food goes directly into the garbage,” Coleman said in her speech last month. “Knowing we serve 2.5 million meals a year, wasting less food and washing far fewer trays will deliver real benefits.”
Lee added that the University isn’t able to collect data on whether going trayless will conserve water in the dining halls.
The new plans for East Quad dining hall include a dining area designed specifically for trayless dining after the residence hall undergoes a $116 million renovation next year. The dorm will be closed for the 2012-2013 school year and is scheduled to reopen in fall 2013.
Mike Lee, director of Residential Dining Services, said Coleman’s announcement will help shed light on sustainable practices already in use in dining services and other areas of the University.
Trayless dining was implemented as a pilot program in East Quad in 2010 after students in an Environment 590 class presented the option. The students, along with the help of University Housing officials, organized and monitored East Quad going entirely trayless for a few days. East Quad was picked for the pilot, Lee said, because it was thought that many of the residents would be accepting of the change.
“You always have some students that may not be so positive, but in East Quad the majority really support (sustainable options)” Lee said.
In 2009, students attempted to create a similar trayless pilot program, over the course of 15 meals, in Mary Markley Residence dining Hall, but their project was unsuccessful.
Upon completion of the 2010 pilot, East Quad became “tray-light” by giving students the option of using trays or not. LSA sophomore Hannah Pearlman and Art & Design sophomore Hannah Nathans, both current East Quad residents who also lived there last year, said they rarely use trays.
“It makes more sense,” Pearlman said. “You’ve got two hands — you can just carry it (without trays).”
However, trayless dining poses some challenges in larger dining halls. University Housing spokesman Peter Logan said it is difficult to implement the trayless model in large dining halls where the serving areas are far from the dining areas, or in dining halls with multiple levels like Hill Dining Center.
“There are some situations in which trayless doesn’t work so well and where we have to be first and foremost attentive to our mission to provide a good dining experience for the students,” Logan said. “Where we can, we do, and where it may not be practical, then we won’t comprise the primary mission of Residential Dining Services.”
Nathans said she notices a difference when she eats at Hill Dining Center, which is not designed to be trayless. She said she thinks it would be an inconvenience to not use a tray there because once she finished eating, it would be hard to know what to do with only a plate.
To educate residents on the trayless dining initiative in East Quad, Dining Services provides information to residents to make them aware of trayless dining procedures.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Pearlman said. “It comes to a point where I think people need to learn to be more aware of the environment and deal with the fact that you have to adapt to certain things to make the world a better place, because that’s what it’s about.”
In addition to trayless dining, the dining halls also incorporate other sustainability efforts such as using napkins made from recycled materials and implementing a pre-consumer waste compost, in which excess food from cooking meals is composted.
“Sustainability is certainly something that we’re trying to fold into what we do, as long as it’s also consistent with or achieves our responsibilities to provide a quality residential experience for students,” Logan said.