UNC Students Serve Up Trayless Study

Student with tray of food.

A student-led research project will help determine if trays like the one being used by this student will remain a part of the dining experience at UNC dining facilities. Photo by Barry LaPoint.

A group of University of Northern Colorado students is teaming up with Dining Services on Earth Day for a class research project that will test the concept of conserving resources by removing trays from dining rooms. The quantitative hypothesis suggests savings.

The theory goes that eliminating trays and asking campus diners to rely solely on plates will further reduce food waste and the amount of water and energy it takes to wash the trays.

Dietetics students who have spent the semester studying the idea will test it in campus dining rooms on Earth Day. In addition to analyzing numbers and comparing measurements of food waste from April 22 and a month ago, the group of four students in the Food, Nutrition and Dietetics class will observe and collect patron feedback during dinner in Holmes Dining room.

The goal is to get a 360-degree view of the initiative.

Senior Danelle Vallegos, who was awarded an $1,800 internal research grant from Natural and Health Sciences to study the topic, says the group will look at how the absence of trays affects customer service, busing of tables and the kinds of food selected.

Vallegos, who arrived at UNC with a bachelor's degree in Psychology from Colorado College after serving as a Weld County health inspector, says that less surface area to collect food could equate to healthier eating with potentially fewer calories. That intrigues the Greeley West High School graduate because of her specific research interests in nutrition and providing that kind of information to make healthy choices.

UNC Director of Dining Services Hal Brown said the results of the student-led research will be used in deciding to remove trays completely, having trayless days during the week or going with the status quo.

The research group's course, Foodservice Systems Management (FND 446), includes a lab in which students work alongside and receive instruction from UNC Dining Services professionals. For their final project, they address a management issue within the food service industry, such as the trayless project.

"It's a win-win situation," Brown said. "Students get to work and learn in a real-live scenario and we get valuable information that we need to make a decision."

For more about the class, visit http://www.unco.edu/dining/dining/fnd.html.

Other Dining Services Conservation Measures
- A pulper compresses plate waste and significantly reduces the number of trash bags that head to the landfill.
- Over-ripened fruit is fed to the bats in the Animal Research Facility.
- To-go locations at Tobey-Kendel and Holmes use biodegradable bags, cups and to-go containers; the UC Food Courts uses biodegradable plates instead of Styrofoam.
- Dining rooms participate in UNC recycling programs and recycle cardboard, fryer oil, paper, plastic bottles, soda cans and printer toner.
- Lights are turned off between meals in dining rooms; kitchen equipment is turned on only when needed.
- Napkins used at UC food outlets are made from recycled products.

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- Nate Haas