‘Trayless’ initiative gets some backlash


Photo by Eddie Ochoa

Going “trayless” will be easy for senior Grace Amponsah-Avewa. For her entire college career, she has never used a tray in the Ludwig Main Dining Room.

“Going to the buffet is always like, you see everything, and you want it all. But you don’t have the room for it, so it ends up getting wasted,” she said.

The absence of trays was expected by those who were checking their emails over the summer. Student Development sent out an announcement on Aug. 18 notifying students of the decision to go trayless. Ludwig’s dining room will continue to provide an unlimited buffet experience, but the new goal is for students to “make more intentional selections” to waste less resources.

Senior Jessica Emmons ditched the trays her Freshman year and encouraged some of her residents do the same during her time as a freshman Resident Assistant. Emmons is glad that the news was  communicated to the student body so that everyone is aware of the “mission behind it.”

Vice President of Student Development Woody Webb estimates that foregoing the trays will reduce food waste by 10 percent and energy and water waste by 20 percent. He also believes that the change “saves money on trays breaking and trays walking out of the dining room.”

Another goal of the initiative is to increase the student body’s “collective consciousness toward our food supply.” The rising price of food is an important factor influencing the trend to eliminate trays. Webb believes that food inflation has led to decreased food package size and weight in grocery stores. Despite Sodexo’s costs rising, Sodexo has not raised Olivet’s meal plan prices.

In making this switch, Olivet is joining a movement championed by a number of other universities. The New York Times reports that 126 universities out of the 300 recognized by the Sustainable Endowments Institute are eliminating or limiting the use of trays in their dining halls. The “trayless” initiative is not exclusive to a select number of higher education institutions. According  to ONU Dinning Services General Manager Brice Grudzien, there is now only one remaining Sodexo partner university in Illinois that still uses trays.

The elimination of trays may have been unexpected to some students, but it was discussed between Sodexo and Olivet faculty for a couple of years, Grudzien said. Over the past two years, two studies have been conducted on the amount of food that was ending up on the conveyor belt. “It was a lot of waste,” he said.

Some students knew the change was coming before Student Development informed the student body.

Senior Elizabeth Johnson and junior Nichole Goumas learned about the benefits of a “trayless” initiative at a discussion panel during Scholar Week last semester. Leading this conversation was Dr. Steven Bouma-Prediger of Hope College—who spoke about creation conservation in chapel that week—as well as Olivet’s Dr. Paul Koch and Susan Emmerich.

“I expected this,” Johnson said. “[Olivet students] had access to hear about [the possibility of ‘going trayless’]. We’d been talking about it in my Honors class for the entire semester.”

What this pair did not expect was how sudden the initiative went into effect. “I expected a slower introduction,” Johnson said, referring to the small steps that were taken at Hope College to introduce the transition, such as “Trayless Tuesday.” Emmons added: “The Freshmen got it down. Upperclassmen have to get used to it.”

Not all students have responded positively to the change. The same day the announcement was made, a change.org petition “to bring back trays in Ludwig” was anonymously created and emailed to an unknown number of students. “When eating, time is of essence to students,” the petition explains. “All the time that can be saved with trays will add fast.”

Although the petition has only garnered six supporters as of the publishing of this article, there are some who are in agreement with its statement. “Particularly during meal rush times, trying to grab your lunch or dinner has become such a hassle,” senior Mady Barker said. “Now you take two trips through the crowd for food and another for your drink, often having to work your way past students already enjoying their meal in the dining area four to six times just to consolidate your own. It’s frustrating.”

Senior Luke Baker added: “I think [the switch] won’t change our footprint.”

According to Grudzien, Olivet students will learn more about the extent of the initiative’s impact from “a follow-up study,” which will take place “in the near future” on the same day of the week and time of the day as the study that influenced the tray removal.

According to Webb, Olivet’s trays have been donated to the Kankakee Terrace Nursing Home.

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