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New push to phase out trays

Helena Guan

Mills College Earth CORPS is driving the campaign to phase out the use of trays at Founders Commons dining hall.

The plan has support from Mills College Dining Services and Bon Appétit, which is making efforts toward sustainability. The use of trays highly contributes to food and water waste. According to Recycling Manager Britta Bullard, the move should save three-fourths of a pound of food per person, per meal.

At first, going trayless will be voluntary. The first step will be to release information at Founders on the benefits of not using a tray, cut down the amount of trays available, and leave it up to each eater’s discretion.

Nicole Vermeer, an active member of Earth CORPS, Mills’ student-run recycling club, said informative literature was first released out this past Saturday.

“[The campaign] is student-driven,” said Dorothy Calimeris, director of Auxiliary Services.

Calimeris first advocated the idea in 2007. She subscribes to the National Association of College and University Food Service e-mail newsletter and many of the subjects the past few years have been about colleges going “trayless.”

“Many schools seemed to be having very positive reactions,” said Calimeris. “And those were much bigger schools, instigating a much bigger dining upheaval.”

Locally, San Diego State University, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, and International House at UC Berkeley have all successfully gone fully trayless.

According to Food Management magazine, two research studies from Aramark Higher Education concluded that removing trays created a 20 to 30 percent reduction in food waste per person. The other study surveyed 92,000 students, faculty and staff at 300 institutions about their attitudes. 79 percent said they would support trayless dining.

David Wilson, Mills’ general manager of Bon Appétit as of Oct. 2, said a lot of energy is wasted growing, harvesting, transporting, storing, preparing, cooking and hauling away food.

“We’re paying out the nose for the food we get,” he said. So it is important that students not “pile [food] onto their plate because their eyes are bigger than their stomach.”

Some students disagree with the idea that it is only the use of trays that leads to food waste. “I don’t think the trays contribute to food waste,” said Betsy Blackard, sophomore, “as much as people thinking ‘I’m so hungry’ and then finding the food isn’t tasty.”

Student reactions are mixed.

“My main course is salad most nights, so I generally don’t get a tray anyway,” said Madeline Anderson, a sophomore.

The trays are only stacked at the beginning of the hot food lines and many salad-eaters agreed with Anderson. One tray was piled with plates and cups at Anderson’s table one Friday afternoon at Mills.

“Even though I’m really tray dependent right now, I agree that the trays lead to food waste,” said Jenny Irizary, sophomore. “Having a tray does encourage me to take more food.”

“The statistics are overwhelming,” said Calimeris. “I introduced the idea to Bon Appétit last year and they were interested, but brand new to campus, so the plan has always been to start the process this academic year.”

The aim now is to be completely trayless by Spring 2009.

Many students were worried about the dish-washing process. Built in the 1960s, Founders designed around trays. In place of flat surfaces, there are metal-bar structures meant for holding trays.

“The tentative plan is to keep trays in all of the slots of the dish-washing line,” said Calimeris. “We would only wash those trays at the end of each semester. We might have to build strips of Lucite for on top of the bars.”

In addition to removing trays from Founders, Calimeris has larger plans. She is helping to work toward creating a new, green, student center, which would have the main cafeteria, the Tea Shop and Café Suzie, along with the bookstore, post office, mail and copy center, and offices for student activities in a central area of campus. This facility would be designed to make trayless dining even easier.

“There are a finite amount of buildings we can have under construction at one time,” said Calimeris. “Once the new MBA building is finished, the student center is next on the list.”