College Cafeteria Food: All You Can Carry

September 28, 2009

As the classes begin on campuses around the country, some students are Greenifying without even knowing it.  In campus dining halls, the latest trend is to eliminate cafeteria trays.

You remember lunchroom trays.  They’re usually made of hard plastic in some nondescript color that resembles latte, toothpaste, or a red apple.  You can pile on a plate or two, plus a couple of side dishes, salad, a bread plate, dessert, a beverage and a glass of water with room leftover for flatware.  They are the stuff that the “freshman 10 pounds” is built upon.  They are also wasteful of resources.

The trays allow meals selections to be stacked up, to be sure, but it also is made entirely of plastic, generally is not recycled, and uses up valuable resources in cleaning and storing the trays.  So why not get rid of them?  Why not have “our finest students” learn to carry their food back and forth to the table?

It seems that a good number of the nation’s higher education institutions are in agreement.  Aramark Higher Education estimates that 60% of the 600 campuses it serves are trayless; Sodexo Inc., which works at a similar number of schools says 40% of its clients are making the change.

There have been a few complaints.  Northern Michigan University students grumbled so steadily about the prospect of having to carry their food that the plan was scuttled. 

Lots of schools have “all you can eat” meal plans for students.  The tray-less schools generally continue those plans, but the students occasionally have to make a second trip.  That alone has apparently saved some cafeteria in terms of waste and cost.  The University of California at Santa Cruz last year saved $100,000 in lower board costs. 

Another excellent result: in a country with more than 60% of its population struggling with being overweight, lower consumption is to be encouraged.  

Then there’s the cost of cleaning and sanitizing them.  Surely the cost of a commercial dishwasher filled several dozen times daily with cafeteria trays, compiled over the weeks and months of a school semester could be money better spent on holding tuition costs down.

With both sides benefitting, plus an environmental dividend, can there be any doubt of why Greenifying one cafeteria tray-load at a time is the right thing to do?


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