Universities nationwide implement trayless dining halls to trim waste — and waistlines

(UWIRE) Some freshmen may begin cursing their meal plans if their waists have grown more than their minds in their first year away from home. To avoid this phenomenon, some colleges are doing away not with their meal plans, but with their dining hall trays in hopes of defeating the freshman 15.

Middlebury College, Alfred University, Frostburg State University and San Francisco State University have already rid their cafeterias of trays, while Harvard University, the University of Connecticut and the University of California at Santa Cruz are considering following suit.

Harvard has tried to slowly ease the transition by starting their students’ foray into trayless dining by promoting tray-free days. Such events take place on a weekly or monthly basis so that the university can gauge student reaction to the change.

The trayless dining initiative has additional environmental goals: It hopes to decrease the amount of energy and resources wasted in washing trays along with reducing the amount of food wasted by students.

Because tray-washing requires a large amount of energy and water, eliminating trays could reduce the carbon footprints of universities – leading many to believe that purging dining halls of trays is a low-cost way to make Tufts a more climate-conscious campus.

But Tufts Dining Services has not yet taken any steps to decrease the amount of energy and water used by their dishwashers.

“We don’t do anything specifically,” said Julie Lampie, nutrition and marketing specialist for Dining Services. Lampie said, however, that when new dishwashers are needed, dining services will select those that are most energy efficient.

Environmentalists at Tufts have conducted events to raise student awareness about wasted food, asking students to scrape their plates into bins before loading their trays onto dishwashing carousels. Dawn Quirk, recycling coordinator for Facilities, said in an e-mail to the Daily that the university has conducted studies to determine the amount of food students waste.

These studies, however, were not met with positive reactions from all students.

“Not all students are very favorable to these experiments,” Lampie said. “Some students said it made them feel guilty about wasting food.”

The experiments showed, however, that removing trays could be an important step to reducing waste.

“Getting rid of the trays would really reduce the amount of food wasted because you’d have to make a separate trip instead of piling it all on one tray,” Quirk said.

Another positive result of trayless dining may be to discourage students from overeating in the dining halls.

“We always have had the policy of encouraging students to eat what they take in the dining hall, but it is a buffet concept and most people feel they need to get a certain value from a buffet, and so it does encourage overeating,” Lampie said.

Lampie said that getting rid of trays may help ease this problem.

“It has the potential to decrease the amount that students eat,” Lampie said.

Despite the idea’s clear benefits, Tufts currently does not have a plan to eliminate its dining hall trays.

“Unless it has student support, there is no reason we would initiate such a move,” Lampie said.

For Dining Services to make a change, the proposal must come from the students.

“It would have to be student-driven,” Lampie said. “Dining Services will embrace many initiatives that students bring to us, but it’s not something that Dining Services itself will inititate. It will come from students.”

Many Tufts students, however, are not ready to ditch their trays when they walk into Dewick and Carmichael dining halls.

Sophomore Chris Giliberti explained that while removing trays may save on food wastage, it could create different problems in other areas of the dining halls.

“I really don’t think it would have that big of an impact,” Giliberti said. “If the crumbs and mess isn’t on the tray, it’s on the table. It creates more work for the people who work here [in the dining hall].”

Some Jumbos, however, believe that the idea may just take time to get used to.

“I think trays are important, but I think it would be a change we could adapt to,” sophomore Elizabeth Komar said.

Sophomore Ingrid Gils has already embraced tray-free dining – not for environmental reasons, but to make the dining experience feel less institutional.

“Eating without a tray makes me feel less like I’m in a cafeteria,” Gils said.

Gils, however, cautioned others against embracing her trayless strategy.

“You really do have to make more trips, so [a campus-wide undertaking] would really clog up the area,” she said.

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