It's a balancing act: Trayless dining halls at MU cut consumption, increase cleaning

Friday, March 8, 2013 | 11:12 a.m. CST; updated 12:57 p.m. CST, Friday, March 8, 2013

*A previous version of this article incorrectly described the amount of waste per meal as the amount students ate per meal.

COLUMBIA — MU's Campus Dining Services' 2012 decision to go trayless has reduced the size of students' meals but has increased the amount of food that hits the floor.

The "whoops" factor has forced an increase in cleaning staff by at least one person per shift in the four dining halls where trayless dining was tested: Plaza 900, Pavilion at Dobbs, Mark Twain Market and Rollins.

“One thing we noticed that we kind of anticipated, but we didn’t know what the effect would be, was the amount of garbage that hits the floor,” marketing manager Michael Wuest said.

MU’s Campus Dining Services expected the decision to go trayless to reduce waste by nearly 26 percent. Wuest said he's also noticed that students eat less per meal  because they're more aware of how much they eat when they have to carry it.

*During the fall semester, students reduced waste to 2.76 ounces per meal, a decrease from the 3.8 ounces wasted per meal in 2011, according to a report from Dining Services. That's 1.04 ounces less per meal with the removal of trays.

It's hard to estimate the cash savings for Dining Services because dining plans have changed as well, Wuest said. But in about a year, Dining Services will have more data and a more accurate picture of how much money is being saved and what waste is avoided, he said.

Campus Dining Services also expected the elimination of trays to save nearly 100,000 gallons of fresh water each year, reducing expenses for Dining Services, according to a report from Hobart dish-washing machine representatives, which was conducted in 2008 when the project originated.

The money saved with the changes will go toward improving MU's dining services, Wuest said. Money saved in previous years was reinvested into renovating Mark Twain Market, for example.

Although there has been a reduction in the amount of food consumed and water used, Wuest said eliminating trays has not changed the types of food students eat. They still like traditional favorites such as pizza, chicken strips and toasted ravioli. 

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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