Friday, September 14, 2012

Tray removal reduces trash

Student collaboration removes trays during all-you-care-to-eat meals

By Jessica Trondsen, Managing News Editor

 Following sustainability initiatives in place at other universities, Pacific Lutheran University has adopted a ‘trayless’ policy during all-you-care-to-eat meals in the Commons.

When Erin McGinnis, director of dining and culinary services, was approached by Sustainability department student workers last year about removing the black plastic trays found in the dining area, she was at first “gun-shy” and “reluctant,” McGinnis said.

“My main point to them [Sustainability workers] was to get students involved,” McGinnis said.

Dining services had previously tried to implement a change to ‘trayless dining’ in spring 2008, but “we didn’t do it the right way,” McGinnis said, citing the lack of student involvement as a reason for eventually bringing back the trays.

“It didn’t work,” McGinnis said.

Students involved with Sustainability and Food Club set up tables outside the Commons during the week of April 2 to spread awareness about the benefits of ‘trayless dining,’ which include less food, water and monetary waste.

On April 9-10, students collected data by weighing food that was discarded on trays after dinner.

A week later, during April 16-17 dinners, trays were removed from the Commons in recognition of Earth Week. Sustainability students were then able to gather information on food waste when trays were not used.

An average of 856 students swiped into dinner during each all-you-care-to-eat meal, with an average food waste of 4.1 ounces per person when trays were used. Food waste averaged 2.8 ounces per person when trays were removed, according to Sustainability department findings.

Alum Danielle Palmer, who worked on the ‘trayless campaign’ last year, said the difference translates to roughly 300 meals saved during each meal period where trays are not used.

Approximately 356 gallons of water are saved each night trays are not washed, a figure that equates to the per-day water usage of two-and-a-half Americans, Palmer said.

Sustainability students then created a resolution and presented it to ASPLU on May 8, 2012.

ASPLU got involved to bridge the gap between students and Sustainability, Hillary Powell, ASPLU public relations representative, said.

“A lot of universities on the level of PLU are ‘trayless,’” Powell said. “It’s not something that is new. It’s something a lot of universities are going toward.”

After attaining student feedback, ASPLU “felt like it was something we could pass and have good support from students,” Powell said.

ASPLU passed the resolution a week later, Palmer said.

There “wasn’t much flack from students,” McGinnis said.

Powell added, “I’m sure there are students who are not fans of it,” because of “the inconvenience” of taking multiple trips to carry dinner dishes. “But in the long run, it will pay off for the Earth and students,” Powell said.

While removing trays from the Commons helps reduce food waste and save water,  participants in the project acknowledge that more effort is necessary.

“We don’t think ‘trayless’ completely solves food waste on all ends,” McGinnis said. “We know we have more work to do. This is just one piece of a bigger puzzle on trying to educate students,.”

Within the coming weeks, dining and culinary services would like to have students weigh food waste again to see how much money the ‘trayless’ project saves.

“Any cost savings go back to PLU, not to someone’s pocket,” McGinnis said.

Trays are still available during breakfast and lunch meals, where dishes are served a la carte.

“At lunch, we don’t have a problem. Lunch is more selective because it’s coming out of their [students’] dining budget,” McGinnis said. 

But at dinner, students “take more and they are not accountable for it in the same financial way,” McGinnis said.

For those who need to use a tray during all-you-care-to-eat meals, a stack of trays will be available near the cashier stand.