Written by Kayla Bogs
One of the biggest controversies of 2008 at Southwestern has sneaked its way back into the system. Despite being the subject of several email wars and SING! mocking, a trayless commons is on the way.
Last week, Student Congress ruled that the commons will go trayless beginning next semester. This change will be put into place next August.
This idea was tested out last semester for a week, one in which many students’ true colors came out while expressing their opinions about it. “Trayless Week” caused much controversy in the student body and many will never forget that experience.
“I despised trayless week,” first-year Eric Godat said. “I thought it was cumbersome to carry all of the plates, and I actually ate more because I had to go back into the food area so many times.”
Trayless dining is nothing new to college and university campuses. According to Sodexho, schools including Georgia Tech, Prairie View A&M, Valdosta State, South Carolina State University, Rowan University and UMass-Dartmouth all have trayless dining.
“The official spark for the idea this year resulted from S.E.A.K members speaking at Student Congress’s first Student Body Forum on Environmental concerns for the campus,” junior and Student Congress President Alex Caple said.
After discussing the campus’s desire to be more environmentally friendly, S.E.A.K. members suggested removing the trays.
Sodexho states that trayless dining is one significant initiative that helps to minimize waste as well as water and energy usage while creating a more sustainable food service operation. With Southwestern trying to go green and be more resourceful, this initiative has been proven in the past and at other locations to do just that.
Overall, professors support the go green campaign but have different feelings about the trayless commons.
“We need to live more thoughtfully and with a less destructive footprint,” Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion and philosophy, said. “I actually think we will all end up happier if we think about the many ways we can ‘go green.’ We’re starting to get there, but we have a long way to go.”
“I think it is good that everyone is active in trying to do something to make our planet better,” Desiderio Roybal, theatre professor, said. “I don’t know if going trayless is the best solution. Maybe having trays as an option would get people out of the habit of taking a tray unless necessary.”
Because students will not be using trays, there will be fewer plates and cups to wash because students cannot stack as many plates on a tray. This is supposed to be able to save thousands of gallons of water a day and save money with less detergent purchases and electricity usage.
Food waste is also another concern of Sodexho and many students as well.
“I think it’s a good idea because people have to fit the food they want on one plate instead of grabbing a ton of different things and not eating all of it, creating waste,” sophomore Lauren Kjolhede said.
Sodexho agrees that trayless dining substantially diminishes food waste by encouraging guests to take only the amount of food they can carry.
The local community’s water supply is also affected by how much detergent, solid waste and grease go down the drain. Therefore decreasing these factors will improve the quality of our water supply, decrease odor and methane generation at disposal facilities and also the wastes in landfills.
Finally, it is also proven to have a positive impact on student health by discouraging overeating and more walking.
“We did find that many students, at least half of those who eat in the Commons, as far as I could tell, disliked being trayless,” junior Samantha Belicek said. “Most disliked the inconvenience, but some had other concerns.”
“I think if it’s going to be an effective way to conserve resources, and thus protect the environment, then it’s a good thing,” professor Kimberly Smith said. “I’ll confess that I wonder how I will handle my silverware, glass, and plate without a tray, but I’m sure it can’t be that tough once you get the hang of it.”
Belicek also commented that one student was concerned because they were not able to carry the plates and such because of a physical incapability.
“We did realize that anyone who has physical difficulties and may need a tray should be able to get one without a moment’s pause,” Belicek said. “The legislation says that trays will only be available to students in accordance with the ADA guidelines, which implies that you can only have one if you actually have a disability.”
“I think the negatives are more mess and broken dishes, thus more mopping and wiping the tables,” Godat said. “The eating area will just generally be messy.”
The students’ voices have definitely not been silenced and this issue has gone through great debate but despite the complaints, the Commons will be trayless come the fall.
“I try to use my own ceramic plates and cups whenever I get things to go,” first-year Sierra Maria Perez said. “However, I can see other people getting upset with the whole trayless idea and possibly increasing the use of Styrofoam take out boxes and cups.”
The use of Styrofoam is not a new issue. It was an issue even before the trayless option was offered. Groups like S.E.A.K. were and still are encouraging students to use their own containers to take to-go food or just not get to-go at all in order to decrease the use of Styrofoam.
“We are currently considering using the projected saved money to change from Styrofoam to a more environmentally-friendly to-go container, since there’s been an initiative for this for a while but no money to do it,” Belicek said.
With the money that is saved from this initiative, Southwestern is also considering offering more meal options for vegetarians and vegans.
Some students have thought of alternatives to this issue for those who oppose it.
“I think it would work to issue trays to students with some sort of deposit and let them be responsible for keeping it clean and using it, and then have them return it to the commons at the end of the semester,” Godat said.