Without a tray
Trayless Tuesday mixes opinions at Fort Lewis College

A sign advertising “Trayless Earth Day” welcomes visitors to Fort Lewis College’s dining hall on Tuesday. Earlier this semester, the school introduced Trayless Tuesdays as a way to reduce food waste and conserve resources. However, the move has been met with some resistance from dining hall patrons who see it as too radical./Photo by David Halterman

by Amy Donahue

For the last seven Tuesdays, the River Rock Café at Fort Lewis College has taken away the trays. As part of a national campaign, Sodexho and the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center (EC) teamed up in removing trays from dining service at the College Union Building once a week.

The goal of the campaign is to reduce food waste and bring awareness to issues revolving around food service.

As one of the founding signers of the President’s Climate Commitment, FLC President Brad Bartel said that initiatives like Trayless Tuesday are important to the college’s movement toward a more sustainable existence. “This is part and parcel of all the things we’re doing; this is part of the philosophy of the college,” Bartel said.

Brandon Hightower, zero waste coordinator at the EC, said that Trayless Tuesday was recommended to the college in a recent Sustainability Assessment. Campus dining services generate 35,000 to 40,000 pounds of food waste per academic year.

He said that he has spoken with people who will take three or four entrees because there is room on the tray, and then waste two or three of those meals.

“It’s an innocent thing,” he said. “I have that happen, too, where my eyes are bigger than my stomach.”

However, Hightower said that numerous campuses across the country have found that Trayless Tuesdays have been successful in reducing food waste, which in turn helps campuses decrease their carbon footprint. He said that bringing attention to energy consumption in food systems is especially important in Durango because it is a remote location. “Most of the food comes to Durango from Denver, and there is a lot of energy required to get resources here,” he said.

Camron Clarkson, general manager for campus dining services, said he tries to live green in his personal life and that implementing campaigns like Trayless Tuesday allow him to bring those values into the work place.

For example, Clarkson said that the dining services on campus switch from china service to paper during the summer. This summer, he plans to test compostable plates in the overflow dining in order to assess whether using such dishes might be feasible on a large scale during the summer. “In food, there’s always been a waste issue,” he said. “We partnered with the EC because it’s a good mission.”

Clarkson said that Sodexho, the dining service on campus, has conducted Trayless Tuesday in campuses across the nation. In fact, Clarkson and Sodexho employees in dining halls nationwide participated in a Trayless Earth Day on April 22.

However, Trayless Tuesday has not been an easy switch. There are a number of practical considerations that come with changing the routines of food service.

Clarkson said that Trayless Tuesday has demanded more labor from the dining staff because it requires more clean up.

“One of the biggest challenges we’ve encountered has been people not bussing their own tables,” he said.

Lloyd Simmons, front of house supervisor, said that he thinks a large part of the problem is that not all of the customers are willing to take on the inconvenience of not having a tray. “I think it’s a good idea and that if people were more willing to accept change, it’d be better,” Simmons said. “It has caused a lot more hard work and headache for me, though.”

Another obstacle encountered in actual implementation of the campaign is the fact that the River Rock Café is not set up for receiving dishes without trays. The drop off point for dishes is a conveyor belt that requires trays in order to transport china and silverware to the dish room.

However, Clarkson said that by simply leaving trays on the conveyor belt for customers to put their dishes on, the problem has been alleviated.

Simmons said that there have been a lot of comments on the campaign, but that negative comments have not been helpful. “Most of the positive comments were insightful and in depth,” he said. “Most of the negative comments were thoughtless with no discussion or suggestions.”

Simmons said he thinks the basic objection to Trayless Tuesday is that it disrupts the daily routine of customers, adding that he has even seen some direct rebellion against the initiative when people take food with the intention of wasting it.

Hightower and Ellis agreed, both suggesting that Trayless Tuesday may not have been as well-received as hoped, partially because the trays were removed halfway through the second semester of the school year.

“Because this was the first time the campaign was initiated at the college, we had no idea how it would be received by students, faculty and staff,” Hightower said. “As someone who fielded questions and attempted to inform people of the campaign, I realized that we need to find a better way to let people know what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Although EC staff members manned information stations in the River Rock Café on Tuesdays, Hightower said that he would suggest more emphasis on education and information to accompany the campaign next year.

“We got people’s attention, but it wasn’t all good attention,” he said. “People weren’t exactly sure what we were trying to do, so we need to let them know what the bigger picture is.”

Ellis said that she would suggest starting Trayless Tuesdays back up in the fall, but making sure that it becomes part of the weekly routine for customers of campus dining.

“It’s good to mix it up a little bit and get people to think about what they’re doing and what they’re leaving behind,” Clarkson said. “It’s not about us, it’s about the generations to come.”

Trayless Tuesday has helped cut back on water and energy usage, Clarkson said.

Although Clarkson said he doesn’t see the college going completely trayless any time soon, he did say that he would like to see the campaign continue into the next school year. “It’s good to get people to think not only about food waste, but everything. It’s about wasting energy,” he said. “In the end, it’s a lifestyle choice.”

Assessing the actual results of Trayless Tuesday may also be a means for the campaign to gain more support.

Hightower said that food waste was collected on three separate dining days, one of which was a Tuesday, but that the results were not conclusive.

“We didn’t have a formalized protocol in place to collect waste,” he said. “But we have improved the system to be consistent and inclusive of both solids and liquids.”

In addition to overcoming physical obstacles, the EC staff has decided to make education a focal point of the campaign. “It’s a fine line between educating people and imposing values,” Hightower said. “How we approach the issue and educate people is very important. We want to work with people and have it be an engaging process rather than having it seem like it’s a mandate.”

Ellis said that she has had several conversations with people eating in the River Rock Café about the goals of the project and also about some ideas to make the campaign better.

“The idea of decreasing food waste helps the college go more green, which is part of the strategic plan,” she said. “We would like to open the conversation as to how to make it work for people.” •

 

 

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