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The trays may have had it

BY JORDAN FRIES | DECEMBER 03, 2009 7:30 AM

Rob Johnson/The Daily Iowan
UI junior Lucas Connor eats dinner in the Burge Market Place on Wednesday. In an effort to reduce the amount of waste produced by students, the Hillcrest and Burge dining halls will likely eliminate trays next year.
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The UI dining halls will likely go trayless next year, catching up with at least six peer institutions that have dumped tray use to try to prevent waste and save money.

Director of UI Food Services Greg Black said the university hasn’t gone trayless sooner because students haven’t expressed much interest in the idea.

“We consider this a resident-student issue, so we are open to their recommendations,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s just a lack of student support for it.”

In addition to the food thrown away by diners, both Hillcrest and Burge Market Places produce more than 1.3 tons of waste each week from unused leftovers. Black said eliminating trays will help diminish the amount of food thrown out.

But Black said students have cited the spacious size of the Market Places as an impediment toward a trayless transformation. It’s almost an entire city block from the south end to the north end of Burge, which makes it inconvenient for students to make more than one trip to the food-service area, he said.

UI sophomore Ming Tran, the head of the UI’s 12-person Residential Dining Advisory Committee, which meets with Black once a month, said overcoming the student uncertainty about a trayless university is the primary concern.

“I wish that people recognized trayless as the wave of the future,” Tran said. “It saves money, prevents waste, and still allows people to go back for more food.”

The UI attempted to go trayless three years ago but was unsuccessful, Tran said. And efforts to establish a voluntary trayless program during Earth Week in 2008 received lackluster interest.

But at some of the UI’s peer universities, according to the state Board of Regents, the benefits of going trayless outweigh the inconveniences.

During the two years students at the University of Texas-Austin have feasted without trays, the dining halls have seen a 48 percent reduction in waste, said Meagan Jones, an environmental specialist at the university.

The University of Arizona has done away with trays at 35 of its 38 dining areas, Director of Student Affairs Nick Adamakis said.

All of Iowa State University’s dining halls are trayless — up from 30 percent last year.

But the University of Wisconsin-Madison has no plans to eliminate trays. Instead, it forces students to pay for each item they take, said Brian Burke, a spokesman for the school’s dining and culinary services.

Before the UI would go trayless, officials are looking to bring enough students on board. Around 50 percent of students support the idea, according to a student dining survey conducted last week.

UI Student Government officials have also endorsed the trayless transition, though some students are still opposed.

“I am completely against the UI going trayless,” UI freshman Brandon Sleik said. “How else would I carry delicious meals back to my table? It makes my life much easier to know that I put everything on my tray that I want.”

Tran acknowledged that the dining hall plates are not fit for carrying much food but said larger, square plates would solve that problem. Bigger cups are also in the dining halls’ future, he said.

And as long as the UI’s hungry masses can still munch to their stomach’s content, Black said, trays will be prehistoric before they know it.


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