Kuntz: Benefits of tray-less

BY KATIE KUNTZ | AUGUST 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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The University Housing and Dining Services may make Hillcrest Dining Hall a tray-less marketplace this semester.

This initiative has seen a great push in recent years, not only from internal sustainability cheerleaders but also from the sweeping trend of tray-less dining halls that has been infecting colleges and universities across the nation.

Kelsey Zlevor, the sustainability initiatives advocate for the University of Iowa Student Government, along with other UISG administrators, submitted a proposal last semester to Housing and Dining arguing that tray-less dining could help cut costs, cut waste, and even help cut the sizes on many students’ waistbands.

“Students tend to rethink portion sizes when limited to only what they can carry in their hands [with only plates],” Zlevor said.

She also noted that without trays, the university could see reductions in water and food waste.
“Decomposing food waste produces methane — [a] greenhouse gas that is chiefly responsible for global warming,” Zelvor said.

The Environmental Protection Agency also reports that methane emissions are a serious concern in the United States, because they are more than 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and they remain in the atmosphere for nine to 15 years.

But Zelvor and other members of the UISG are not the only ones who have made this argument. In fact, both of Iowa’s other regent universities have tray-less dining halls, along with many other schools in the nation, and they have seen results.

Some of these universities were included in a study that showed an average reduction of waste anywhere from 25 to 30 percent per person, according to an Aramark study conducted in 2008.
The National Association of College and University Food Services also reports that removing trays has been effective on many campuses nationwide, and ISU reported a 39 percent reduction in food waste after going tray-less.

However, this has been an issue Housing and Dining has confronted for many years. In a survey of students living on campus in 2010, “LiveOn,” a University of Iowa newsletter, reported that 48 percent of students supported tray-less dining, and 47 percent did not.

The argument touted by the opposition was much more about the students’ convenience rather than documented fact.

Many students reportedly argued in the study that they disapprove of making several trips to the food stations and do not want to carry numerous dishes.

Housing and Dining should finally allow reason and data to win a debate against general lethargy.

So perhaps the UI will not see as great of results in waste and cost reduction as other schools have reported, but even if the only difference going tray-less actually makes is to end the ongoing and “hotly disputed” debate about going tray-less, that is enough of a difference for me.

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