To remember the Earth, USF has forgotten the tray.
That’s the tagline printed across one of the signs on campus informing students of USF’s new trayless dining policy.
USF and universities across the nation are implementing environmentally friendly practices, like phasing out the plastic trays traditionally used in dining halls.
Supporters of the move said the removal of trays minimizes pollution and waste, though others remain skeptical of the plan’s benefits.
On-campus food service provider Aramark said the move encourages social and environmental change.
“Trayless dining reduces an institution’s environmental footprint by decreasing waste and conserving natural resources,” stated an Aramark news release. “Socially, it encourages all students to participate in a ‘green’ initiative that has personal and community impact. Economically, going trayless reduces the cost of energy, water, cleaning agents and waste removal.”
The exact amount of money saved by the plan cannot be calculated because of differences in local water and electricity prices, said Aramark Resident District Manager Tom Williamson.
Williamson did say, however, that washing one tray requires from one-third to one-half a gallon of water. Aramark used 400 trays at Andros and Argos, and those trays are in storage, he said. By not using these trays, USF potentially saves about 200 gallons of water per day — the equivalent of about four bathtubs full — if every tray would have been washed once daily.
Another way trayless dining helps the environment, he said, is by limiting food waste.
A government study reported Americans waste an average of 27 percent of food available for consumption, and rotting food waste in landfills produces methane gas, according to The New York Times. This gas is a major source of greenhouse gas, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported.
Aramark said it hopes trayless dining can minimize this impact by encouraging portion control so that people will be less likely to load up on more food than they can consume.
In its own study, Aramark found that when trays were removed from a dining facility, the food waste quantity was reduced by 1.2 to 1.8 ounces per person, per meal. This amounts to about a 30 percent reduction in food waste per person, according to the Aramark news release.
USF Senior Dietician Kim May said the portion control caused by trayless dining offers another benefit — weight control. Though there are many factors that go into students’ eating habits, trayless dining could have an indirect impact of losing weight, she said.
“It might help promote less food intake because students cannot carry as much food, and they will get tired of having to get up to get more,” she said.
Students, however, reacted differently to the removal of trays.
Some students aren’t bothered by it. Dayna Nilsen, a freshman majoring in international studies, said she eats at one of the two student dining halls every day.
“I don’t mind not having trays,” she said. “I’m still able to pile on all the food I need.”
Some students, however, are skeptical of the reasons USF has started this trayless dining practice.
“Be a more environmentally conscious campus, and then I might take it a little more seriously,” said Anjali Makhijani, a post-baccalaureate student studying biology. “Make the Marshall Center ‘greener’ by really using recyclable materials. I don’t think the water consumption is that big of a deal.”
Jenna Barkic, a senior majoring in medical technology, said she doesn’t see the benefits of trayless dining.
“I think the school is being cheap,” she said. “Students are prone to buy less food just because the food prices are higher on campus. I don’t think the trays are conducive to the (consumption of less) food.”
Williamson said there have been few complaints about trayless dining.
USF isn’t the only university to support going trayless. Aramark conducted a nationwide survey at 300 institutions — including more than 92,000 students, faculty and staff — and found that 79 percent of respondents said they would support trayless dining. The survey included USF.
“USF Dining recognizes the need for sustainability and encourages environmentally friendly practices,” Williamson said.
Florida State University and the University of Central Florida — both of which use Aramark as their main food provider — have removed trays from their dining facilities. UCF has removed trays from all their locations, said UCF Marketing Manager Julie Bream. FSU has removed trays from their two main dining halls, said FSU Marketing Manager Jenna Hagerich.
Aramark’s research indicates that removing trays would eliminate costs and cleaning agents, Williamson said. However, he explained that, should the University return to using trays, there are adequate facilities within the dining locations for properly cleaning them.