Dining Services Encourages Trayless Initiative

The college is experimenting with a trayless initiative in the Commons to promote environmental awareness among the college's community.

By Lindsay Van Leir
Reprinted with permission from The Brackety-Ack

For the second week in a row, Roanoke College experienced the trayless initiative to promote environmental awareness among the college's community. Dining services was responsible for the initial proposal of the trayless system and had asked interested students to form a committee to help the cause.

Dining Services did a trial run on Tuesday during lunch and dinner to see how many students would not use trays and what the reaction would be. Fay Cronin, manager of Cafeteria/Catering Services, said despite initial shock and groans, "most did it and they seemed surprised when it worked."

Lea Lupkin '09 said that during the week prior, Dining Services advertising attempts were negatively received. Some students ignored the initiative, some tried it, but in large part, students were upset at the idea of not having a tray.

"[It was] like we were personally affronting them by suggesting that they try going trayless," Lupkin said.

Tuesday afternoon, students expressed frustration at not being polled or notified beforehand of the trayless lunch hour. Because the trays were hidden, some felt as though they did not have a choice, and did not appreciate being forced to act. Numerous comment cards were handed in, and some students went so far as to leave their dishes on dining tables with written messages in protest.

A year ago, Dining Services heard about the movement happening on other campuses nearby at Ferrum College and Virginia Tech. Last semester, Dining Services contacted Earthbound asking for student support. Members of Earthbound, RC's student-run environmental awareness organization, agreed to help spread the word.

In retrospect, Dooley said that though Earthbound students have been an asset to the initiative, administration should have reached out to more student organizations such as the Honors Program and Greek organizations.

Lupkin said the idea of going trayless was brought up at a Green Advisory Committee meeting in 2008 during the spring semester. Dining Services needed a collection of students to help communicate the positive environmental effects and cost efficiency of not using trays.

Virginia Dooley, the Director of Dining and Auxiliary Services for RC, said that adopting the trayless initiative was done for social purposes more so than logistical. The goal was never to ruin students' dining experience or to enforce policies on them.

"I don't think that you [students] will ever walk in there and not find a tray in some location," Dooley said.
Other schools like Sweet Briar, Ferrum College and Virginia Tech removed trays over the summer without student input as in an attempt to save money. Ferrum, one of RC's peer institutions, which has approximately 1,200 students, reported saving 30 percent on annual food costs by removing trays from its dining facilities. Last year, RC paid $1.5 million for food and non-alcoholic beverages; thirty percent of this would amount to over $300,000.

Despite the financial savings and environmental benefits, RC administrators are hesitant to enforce anything upon students. Dooley said that to expect to be completely trayless is unrealistic for RC, so currently, the school hopes only to reduce waste. She did not comment on whether or not RC was exploring other methods of conserving.

Dooley believes students are currently slow to change because they are not aware of the many benefits of going trayless.

"It's their meal plan," she said. "I don't think it's selfish [to want a tray]. But ask, what is the responsible thing to do?"

Many students at RC are not interested in change without having some input in the change taking place. Dooley said administration realized after Tuesday's feedback from students that reaching out to more organizations would have made the initiative more successful, or at least more well-received.

A downside that Dining Services recognizes to the trayless initiative is the inability for RC facilities to measure the change. The school's buildings are not equipped with separate systems for measuring heat output or water usage individually. So for curious students and faculty, there will be no statistics specific to RC's efforts. The only available data are approximations.

Administrators are expecting positive results from the initiative. Dining room attendees said they did see a difference in the amount of food coming back on the conveyer belt on Tuesday afternoon when trays were put out of immediate reach.

"I think trayless will be a success, mostly because so many other colleges and universities have been able to overcome the negative reactions and transition to a new social norm," Lupkin said. "I don't see why [RC] should be any different."

About the Author

The Brackety-Ack is Roanoke College's student newspaper and is published weekly.

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