Wheaton College students entered the dining hall on Tuesday, Dec. 11, and were greeted not with the familiar stacks of brown food trays but, instead, clear tubs of compacted food waste that occupied the cart shelf beneath the silverware.
Reaching back about three years, colleges across the United States began engaging in tray-elimination campaigns in order to reduce food waste in college dining halls in pursuit of becoming more environmentally friendly.
Wheaton College, spearheaded by Bon Appétit and Student Government, decided to join the movement this week in a tray-free day dubbed “Trayless Tuesday.”
Raul Delgado, general manager of Bon Appétit at Wheaton, initiated the event by contacting junior Joshua Miller, executive vice president of college life, about the trayless trend crossing the nation.
According to a study by Aramark, a professional good services company, going trayless has been found to significantly reduce waste in more than 300 colleges and universities it services in North America. The result of the switch has been to keep more than 15 million pounds of food waste from landfills this year.
Other benefits of discarding trays include conserving natural resources, such as energy and water, and reducing the amount of pollutants by lessening the use of detergents used to wash the trays.
These benefits also save money by diminishing costs associated with the energy, water and cleaning supplies that go into tray washing, the Aramark study found.
Further, going trayless has resulted in cheaper meal plans at some universities. Students take less food when they are only able to carry one plate and one cup at a time, eliminating the piles of food each tray can accommodate.
Despite the economic benefits, senior Jeremy Browning, student body president, said, “We felt this would be a wonderful thing to pursue at Wheaton, not for cost reasons, but to bring a creation care perspective. We certainly want to be good stewards of the environment, and one way to do that is to not eat excessively and to not waste perfectly good food that we have available to us in (Anderson Commons).”
Wheaton students were given opportunity to respond to the new initiative on Twitter with the hashtag #traylesstuesday, created by Student Government, and through text message comments.
“The hotline has received a lot of positive responses,” said Browning of the texts. “I would say about 85 percent of the responses have been positive.”
The Twitter hashtag gathered negative and positive responses.
Junior Joel Miner at Twitter handle @joel_miner tweeted, “@wheatonSG #traylesstuesday is great! I haven’t used a tray yet this year and am looking forward to good company tomorrow.”
Some students expressed criticism via Twitter, however, arguing that wasted food exists on the plates, not the trays.
In response to this common remark, Browning said, “It has been proven by various studies that if you have a smaller area upon which you are eating your meal, you will actually eat less food. So that’s the rationale behind removing the trays, to help you see or at least give you context about the small decisions that you make; they provide you with a helpful alternative to overeating.”
Institutions who have gone trayless have found ways to accommodate the changes.
Iowa State University (ISU), which made the change in 2009, spent over a year researching the trayless option before implementing it.
ISU found the need to rearrange its silverware setup and also changed to larger square plates and larger cups to compensate for lack of tray space.
Bon Appétit suggested ways to ease trayless navigation of the dining facility. Suggestions included getting a drink and silverware on the way to a table, eating family style and asking fellow diners for a hand.
In the process of feeding 11,000 people per day, ISU found that trays were resulting in 182,500 pounds of wasted food.
Bon Appétit found that approximately 600 pounds of waste per day accumulates on returned trays.
The results of the trayless initiative at ISU were an approximately three percent reduction in dish cleaning and food costs and a 10 percent decrease in food waste after the first year.
When asked if there will be more Trayless Tuesdays in the future, Browning said, “We would like to do it again due to the positive responses we have gotten — great participation in (Anderson Commons) today throughout the three meals. I can’t say for certain when the next Trayless Tuesday will be, but I would definitely say that it would happen next semester, possibly January.”
Photo Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the December 14 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.