October 8, 2008

Risley Removes Dining Trays for Sustainability

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As part of its ongoing effort to engage in sustainable practices, Cornell Dining has begun a new initiative to eliminate the use of trays in dining halls — starting with Risley Dining Hall.
According to Doug Lockwood, office manager for Cornell Dining, students first brought forth the idea of removing dining hall trays last spring. After researching the results of tray-less dining at other schools and after a vote to approve the pilot program by Risley’s governing council, the decision was made to eliminate trays for the start of the fall semester.
The main focus of this initiative is to promote sustainability in dining, according to Lockwood. He said it does so by cutting down on waste because people take less food and they only take what they can eat. In addition, a significant amount of water is saved by not having to wash the trays. There are also dining benefits from some residual savings such as the decrease in food costs, utility usage and labor time.
According to Lorna Bradshaw, operations manager for Risley Dining, the program has been successful thus far, receiving positive feedback from students and staff.[img_assist|nid=32530|title=Food fun|desc=A student loads a tray of food in a dining hall on campus. Risley Dining Hall will no longer provide trays in an effort to reduce C.U.’s carbon footprint.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“The first few days there were growing pains during the adjustment period, but after that [everyone] really embraced the program,” she said.
Many students said that since they could not carry as much food with them, they were more mindful of the food they were eating and the choices they made.
Rob Morrisey ’12, for example, was not bothered by the change to tray-less dining.
“I don’t mind [the program] because it helps me take less food and think about what I’m taking,” he said.
Chaz Childers ’12 agreed, explaining that he likes Risley’s system better than dining halls where students use trays.
“In dining halls like [Robert Purcell Marketplace Eatery], I end up not eating half of what I take, anyway,” he explained.
Bradshaw noted that students in Risley were quick to adapt to the new system, a process facilitated by the fact that were no real logistic changes.
The switch was “relatively painless,” she said, noting that the transition is just a matter of readjusting the mindset.
“Though you do have to make more trips,” Bradshaw conceded, “the benefits outweigh the convenience.”
Tray-less dining reduces Cornell’s carbon footprint, according to Bradshaw, by reducing the use of water, energy and chemicals. Even more surprising, she noted, is the fact that there is less breakage because people do not accidentally drop trays full of food and dishes.
“For some people, [the system] is inconvenient,” she said, “but for most students it’s not a big deal — a non-issue.”
However, Dan Hutchison ’10 disagrees.
“[Trays] save a lot of time especially coming in after [rowing] practice when I need lots of cups of water and plates of food,” he said.
If the tray-less dining initiative were expanded to other dining halls, he explained, “It would put a big wrench in my night, every night.”
Haley Bergeron ’12, on the other hand, feels that trays are “fairly unnecessary.”
“Risley is small, so if you need seconds you can just go get them,” she said.
According to Lockwood, Cornell Dining is looking to expand this program and identify other dining halls where tray-less dining could be feasible, although there are no plans for tray-less dining across the entire campus at this time.
The system works best in a small dining facility without stairs, according to Bradshaw. Currently, Cornell Dining is looking into the possibility of tray-less dining at the new Flora Rose House facility on West Campus, although the decision has yet to be made.
Cornell Dining has also continued the effort to be more sustainable through the expansion of local food efforts, the expansion of composting efforts in retail outlets on campus, the planning of a waste oil biodiesel facility and the creation of a sustainable fish-buying guide to obtain fish from sources where they are not endangered.
“[Cornell Dining] likes to support student initiatives,” Lockwood said. “We are always open to more suggestions.”