Are Colleges Too Extreme in Going Green?

traysFull of surging hormones and unbridled enthusiasm, colleges and universities are becoming leaders in integrating green living with good old capitalistic partying. But are some colleges going a little extreme in their desire to be green? Many students at places like St. John's University think so after their campus banned ...

...food trays.

Say What?

The push to go green is axing food trays from many American college campuses. They have become demonized for wasting water, increasing detergents that go into the water supply and encouraging students to take more food than they can eat. Villanova dining hall employees say they enjoy having less dishes to wash up, but note that there are a lot more food messes to clean up in the hall itself.

You get a lot of college students together and sooner or later they are not going to be able to balance anything very well, whether it's their checkbooks or several dishes of food on one arm. Many college students - forced to pay more and more for everything else on campus - now can't eat the food that they've paid for through the nose. For many students, this is the only time of the day that they can eat something other than from a vending machine.

Eating On Campus

This writer remembers her time at Millersville University's dining hall - and am I glad I graduated before any tray ban kicked in. Dining halls are only open a couple of hours a day, so the lines are ridiculous. You had one shot at the food and that was it. If you forgot to get something - even a spoon or a fork - then you were out of luck. Collisions were often and sometimes your food-laden tray was the only way you could thread through the Red Sea of student bodies.

Unless dining halls are willing to be open for longer hours, there is still going to be the need for food trays. It would have been nice for the students to have been given an opportunity to have some other choice of reducing the waste their campuses produce rather than to deny them food. Some campuses, like Glenville, have at least made more plates and cups available for the students.

How Much Will Be Saved?

Going trayless is expected to save on water bills for the campuses involved - but final figures over whether the experiment will be worth it won't be known for years.

Arguments for going trayless are claimed to be the results from surveys done by Amarank, one of the nation's leading provider of campus dining hall services. They claim that food waste is reduced by 5% when student don't use a tray. They also claim that they expensively polled "92,000 students, faculty and staff from 300 campuses" and found that 79% said they would volunteer to eat without using food trays.

Although water is undoubtedly saved by not washing trays, does it instead go to cleaning up the clothes, student bodies, tables and floors covered in spilled food and drinks? One campus that tried to go trayless and was forced to bring the trays back was Ohio University. The hassle was just too much for the students and the staff to take. It is also estimated that Ohio University lost over $150 in broken dishes during the trayless period.

You Can Go Too Far

The idea of trayless dining has not made any headway outside of schools and college campuses, because the trays are considered to be as necessary as plates and forks by paying customers in restaurants, cafeterias and other eateries dependant on trays. 

Although doing all you can to help the environment is encouraged, it has to be done with the big picture in mind. Going trayless saves some resources, but is far more of a hassle than it's worth. Other options like going vegetarian or taking online courses would save far more planetary resources and keep you from wearing your lunch rather than eating it.

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  • Posted on Nov. 10, 2008. Listed in:

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