Elimination of trays decreases food waste in dining halls

The trayless initiative began around 2008.
Since eliminating trays in dining halls, Campus Dining Services has noted a decrease in food waste. MSA and RHA began the initiative for trayless dining halls in 2008.

Campus Dining Services recorded a 15,000-pound decrease in food waste over the past two years after eliminating trays from dining halls.

The trayless initiative not only decreased food waste but also decreased water waste by 100,000 gallons per year, according to an MU news release.

Campus Dining has been weighing food waste for a few years now, said Michael Wuest, marketing manager of Campus Dining Services. A random sampling of 100 plates is conducted after various meals every month and measured for waste.

The trayless initiative began around 2008, with strong support from the Missouri Students Association and the Residence Halls Association.

“The MSA and RHA presidents at the time were adamant about making the change,” Wuest said. “At first, students weren’t in favor of the transition. It came off as an inconvenience.”

Wuest said Campus Dining has received more positive feedback than negative feedback about going trayless since the change went into effect.

Although the initiative is ongoing, the Plaza 900 dining hall still uses trays. The hall uses about one tray per patron to collect plates, cups and cutlery for cleaning.

Senior Jarrett Seifert said Plaza 900's continued use of trays was one of the reasons students weren’t completely supportive of the dinning halls originally going trayless.

“I saw the benefit of it, but it really seemed like a bigger hassle because they still had to use the trays to take the dishes to the back,” Seifert said. “Sometimes it seemed pointless.”

Plaza 900 currently isn’t equipped with the right kind of plate collection belt to eliminate trays completely, but the belt should be replaced within the year, Wuest said. Plans for Plaza 900 renovations have already been filed, as they needed to be completed before the belt is replaced.

The Pavilion at Dobbs dining hall is the next big project, Wuest said. Dobbs is scheduled to be renovated in the next few years but has used different types of compostable disposable ware that is similar in cost and utility to the current plastic options.

When Dobbs was built, it was designed to be primarily a retail venue, similar to the food service in the MU Student Center, Wuest said. It was built without a dish room, and its kitchen still cannot accommodate washing the number of dishes that Rollins or Plaza 900 can.

“Rollins is almost the model in terms of our food waste reduction,” Wuest said.

Rollins also has a pulper in its kitchen, which is a machine that grinds up food waste. Food pulpers make food wastes much easier to handle and compost, according to the MU Bradford Research and Extension Center website.

For almost a year now, much of the food waste produced in the dining halls has been sent to Bradford Farms to be composted, Wuest said. Bradford Farms, located 6.5 miles east of Columbia, is part of the Bradford Research and Extension Center and the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

All of the food waste that goes to Bradford Farms and the fresh vegetables campus dining buys from the farm are transported in trucks powered by biodiesel fuel, which has been converted from the 3,000 gallons of waste vegetable oil produced in the campus dining kitchen.

Senior Mariah Hibbard, who ate in the dining halls when the trayless push began, said the university initiative is not a bad price to pay.

“If it is going to prevent waste then it is a good idea," senior Mariah Hibbard said. "We had trays all year, so ‘no tray’ days were kind of a pain. It’s a good kind of inconvenience, and the freshmen now probably don’t even notice.”

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