Dining halls’ initiatives aim for food conservations
By Alyssa Figueroa
Ithaca College Dining Services has decided to go trayless and portion popular foods in certain dining halls in an aim to be more sustainable. On Oct. 22, 2008, Campus Sustainability Day, Towers Dining Hall tested out trayless dining.
After a successful test run they officially began Trayless Tuesdays on Nov. 4. The Campus Center began Trayless Tuesdays in December.
The decision to go completely trayless in both dining halls was made after obtaining an overall positive response from students. Jeff Scott, the College Dining Services’ general manager, said the dining hall staff worked with three sustainability interns to gain students’ perspectives about the initiatives.
Scott said he does not know if trayless dining in Terrace Dining Hall is practical because it is more spread out and because students sometimes eat upstairs. When Terraces attempted to portion food, Dining Services “heard a louder response” from students, said Scott.
Sophomore intern Stephanie Piech spoke with students to see if they were opposed to the campaign. “With every initiative there will be some complaining, but there was not an openly negative response,” she said.
She also said that on the over 150 surveys she handed out in the Campus Center Dining Hall, two had complaints about trayless dining.
The benefits of trayless dining, according to Scott, are to discourage wasting food, improving efficiency of staff as well as saving water, chemicals and power. He said that about 200 pounds less food is being wasted per day in Towers and about 300 pounds less in Campus Center. This is measured by how many fewer bins of waste are being produced.
Scott believes trayless dining helps to deter wasting food. “Starting with a tray, it’s a lot easier to take more than you necessarily need,” he said. “I think there’s definitely a benefit of: ‘take a plate of food versus a tray of food.'”
Having less trays to wash also saves the staff time, Scott said. “We are working on continuously improving that efficiency with staff so the dishwasher runs for less time.” However, since the dishwashers do not have water meters on them, the actual water savings cannot be accurately measured. Scott said Dining Services is looking into buying water meters, but they estimate a 5-percent savings in each area–water, chemicals and power.
Some students find it hard to believe that trayless dining saves any water because they hear the dishwasher running for the same amount of time.
Scott said the dishwashers are running for a shorter period of time, though they are kept on because the water needs to stay hot to sanitize the dishes. However, the dishwasher goes through fewer cycles.
He also said perhaps students are mistaking the sound of the water running in the trough, where workers pour out liquid waste, with the sound of dishwashers. The water running in the trough, he said, is recycled water.
Scott said food portioning is meant to “assist people with providing a reasonable amount of food on some of the items people can overeat, but also control the amount of waste.” If students want more they can go back in line or they can ask for more from the staff.
Piech said that students were more receptive to trayless dining than they were to portioning. “I think they were a little frustrated at first because they used to be able to take as many chicken fingers as they wanted and going back on the line makes it annoying,” she said. “But a lot of people have eyes that are bigger than their stomachs and then they waste food while wasting money.”
Piech said complaining has died down over time. “When students see their friends not minding trayless or only getting six chicken wings, they come to accept it more.”
Scott said that Dining Services has found that these new procedures save one-third of a pound of food per person per meal. The money saved from buying less food and saving resources will go toward new initiatives in the dining hall. These initiatives include saving energy by purchasing new cookware, purchasing food from local markets and bringing more organic foods in the dining halls upon students’ request. Past achievements were getting fair-trade coffee and purchasing compostable ware.
According to a July 2008 article in USA Today, a majority of the U.S.’s 4,000 colleges and universities will go trayless within the next five years.
Alyssa Figueroa is a freshman journalism major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.