Going Greener for Fall: UC s Residential Restaurants Eliminate Food Trays

The University of Cincinnati’s residential restaurants join a national trend that’s kicking into full gear this fall as universities across the country remove trays from dining centers in efforts to save on wasted food and the massive amounts of water and chemicals used in cleaning food trays. The move is one example of how higher education institutions are adopting sustainability measures in line with the viewpoint of today’s conservation-minded student.

John Hautz, UC director of auxiliary services, says UC first tested going trayless for a week at CenterCourt Restaurant and MarketPointe at Siddall around Earth Day last April. University Dining Services reported a savings of 2,030 pounds of food waste as a part of that initiative, in addition to water and energy savings. Hautz says the trayless trial expanded over the summer, as dining trays were eliminated from MarketPointe at Siddall during summer orientation. Trays will still be available for diners with special needs.

“Sustainability and conservation are increasingly becoming practices that customers expect, and they can also make good economic sense,” Hautz says. “Waste reduction, energy conservation and recycling are no longer novelties, but expectations in today’s business environment.”

UC’s University Food Services is a partnership with ARAMARK, which operates on more than 500 college campuses throughout North America. ARAMARK reports that as many as 50-to-60 percent of its partners, including UC, will be going trayless during the academic year.

Trayless Dining at MarketPointe, Drew Stocker, DAAP, Linda True (Housekeeping coordinator) and Alex Bailey Acc't student carrying only their plates from the salad bar.


“It seemed like a pretty easy transition for me, because I only grab one plate and one cup,” says Alexandra Bailey of Batavia, Ohio, a UC junior who worked as a student orientation coordinator over the summer when trayless dining was tested more extensively at UC. “Some people who stacked a lot of plates grumbled a little about taking them back to the cleaning area. Personally, if this is a green-minded idea, I’m all for that, if we’re saving on wasted food and helping the environment. If people want to go back and get an extra plate, it’s no big deal. It’s just a few extra steps,” says the accounting major.

A national study by ARAMARK found that the quantity of food waste was reduced by 1.2 to 1.8 ounces per person per meal in dining facilities that toss the trays – a 25-to-30 percent reduction in food waste per person. In an ARAMARK survey of 300 institutions across the country, 79 percent of those surveyed supported the idea of tray removal from dining facilities.

Last spring, Sodexo food and management services reported that 300 college campuses served by Sodexo eliminated the trays for Earth Day. The national dining services company also reports that many of its 600 college campuses are pulling trays from dining centers. In addition to savings on wasted food, Sodexo estimated that reducing the cleaning involved with tray usage would amount to a savings of about 200 gallons of water a day per 1,000 meals served.

Below is a sampling of other universities emphasizing sustainability in food services

North Carolina State University
NC State was ahead of the trayless trend after remodeling one dining hall two years ago and eliminating food trays in that facility. When severe drought left Falls Lake, the university’s water supply, at a seriously low level last winter, all dining centers eliminated food trays. “We had to take some drastic measures to save on water as a result of the drought and as a residual consequence, we found people were wasting less food,” says Randy Lait, associate director of food services. He adds the trayless trend helped food services save as much as 6,000 gallons of water per week.

University of Connecticut
Like UC, UConn Dining Services experimented with trayless dining during summer orientation and announced it will remove trays from seven of its eight residential dining centers this fall. UConn hired an external consultant to examine water usage on campus and found that one of the major water consumers was UConn’s Dining Services, which serves more than four million meals per year. UConn President Michael J. Hogan declared the trayless dining trial during summer orientation a success. “Students were able to select what they wanted and as much as they wanted,” states the president in a statement on UConn’s Web site. “We saved water big time. And no unexpected hassles.”

University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota is another ARAMARK partnership that is getting rid of food trays this fall. University of Minnesota Dining Services announced it was beginning trayless dining in six residential restaurants on campus in August. In other campus trends in sustainability, the university marks its second year of composting kitchen and post-consumer waste in 12 campus dining locations. The dining services’ catering department also provided opportunities for customers to select zero-waste options for catered events on campus. In support of local agriculture, the division purchased 170,184 pounds of local produce in 2007. The university dining services also provides organic menu offerings and serves cage-free eggs in all residential dining locations on campus.

William and Mary College
Larry Smith, food director of Commons Dining Hall (a partnership with ARAMARK), says the dining hall is exploring the possibility of going trayless this fall, following a three-day trial that involved going trayless last March. The March event came about after the student green group, Student Environmental Action Coalition, proposed the idea. Smith says food services are also working with environmentally conscious students to grow a garden in which the produce can be used in the restaurant. “We have a mulcher right next to the Commons building. Students have been tending the garden, which holds cucumbers, zucchini, swiss chard, yellow squash, tomatoes, okra, potatoes, herbs and more. We started the garden last April and make the compost to fertilize it,” Smith says. He adds that the trayless days left garbage bins significantly lighter, and that the success of the trayless campaign was enhanced by a student-led publicity effort in support of going green.

University of Kentucky
This fall, the University of Kentucky removed trays from all dining facilities, including brand-name fast food restaurants in the student center, in efforts to conserve on water and cleaning chemicals.

University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas is going trayless in all three of its dining halls this fall as part of examining national trends in universities and sustainability efforts. Scott Flanagin, director of communications and outreach for the Division of Student Affairs, adds that other efforts include designing energy conservation programs for facilities, exploring green roofs on buildings (the university currently has one green roof) and challenging college divisions and units to cut back on waste. Flanagin says as a result, some units in his division no longer purchase bottled water. The tobacco-free university holds campus-wide recycling competitions and formed an institutional sustainability council to examine policies and projects to either revise or create efforts to reduce the institution’s carbon footprint. The University of Arkansas got a 97 rating on a scale of 60-99 as part of the Princeton Review’s new green rating in its 2009 edition of “The Best 368 Colleges.”

University of Michigan
As the University of Michigan opens The Hill Dining Center, its new $21 million, two-story dining facility, reducing tray usage is being considered as part of the nationwide trend of universities going green. Michael Lee, director of residential dining, adds that food services at the University of Michigan works closely with local farmers for fresh produce supplies. At its dining facility that serves vegan/vegetarian diners, food services contracts with local farmers to offer sustainable organic initiatives such as eggs from free-range chickens.

Alfred University
Alfred University in western New York first announced it was going trayless in January – a result of a student-led effort represented by Green Alfred, a student sustainability organization, and the university’s environmental studies program.

University of Virginia
The University of Virginia is eliminating trays from dining halls this fall except for diners with special needs. The university has spent the past 18 months encouraging students to stop using trays, says Dining Services Director Brent Beringer. Additional green strategies focus on a green dining program that acquires more than 11 percent of its foods from sustainable sources, serving eggs from cage-free chickens, offering fair-trade coffee and chocolate and developing a garden that’s cultivated by students and faculty.

Trayless Dining at MarketPointe, freshmen member of the football team:, Bruce Horner, Dereh Wolfe, George Winn and Darrin Williams in back.

Bruce Horner, Derek Wolfe, George Winn and Darrin Williams (back)

UC’s two residential restaurants – CenterCourt and MarketPointe at Siddall – also reflect national trends in offering on-site, display-style cooking, vegan and vegetarian options, menu nutrition information, flexible dining plans and payment options, and wireless access. Both restaurants have received awards from the National Association of Colleges and University Food Services (NACUFS) for their outstanding menus and quality service. University Dining Services at the University of Cincinnati serves more than 600,000 meals a year.

University Food Services Web site

MarketPointe at Siddall Web site (includes dining hours, prices and menus), phone 513-556-2115

CenterCourt Web site (includes dining hours, prices and menus), phone 513-556-4116

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