Earth Emerson frustrated by paper trays in the DH

by Beacon Staff • February 27, 2008

Emerson's trayless initiative has run into more opposition this week. The experiment was initially shortened from two weeks to one due to anonymous complains from both students and "people higher up than Business Services," said co-president of Earth Emerson Kristen Golden. Now, paper trays have popped up in the dining hall against Earth Emerson's wishes.

According to Golden, a Beacon contributer, the trays were only supposed to be available for people who specifically requested them. However, students have been taking note of the environmentally unfriendly trays, and the annoyance about the Dining Hall's trayless status has taken on a new dimension.

"Isn't the point of going trayless to produce less waste?" read an anonymously posted complaint on the Dining Hall comments board. "Aren't these paper trays counterproductive?"

"I'm in complete agreement with that," Golden said in a telephone interview. "Earth Emerson had no idea [about the trays]."

She said since seeing them displayed on Monday, she has been working to get the disposable trays out of sight so students would not be encouraged to use them.

According to Golden, Earth Emerson decided to collaborate on implementing the trayless initiative, originally conceived by Emerson Business Services.

The program drew fire from students before this week's start date, and continues to do so with the appearance of the new trays. However, Golden, a communication studies major, said she'd heard most of the complaints were now coming from faculty.

"I guess you really can't teach an old dog new tricks," Golden said.

Both Business Services officials and Earth Emerson say that the environmental and monetary benefits are vast, supposed inconveniences aside: lower electricity and water use, less food-related waste and, as the advertising in the Dining Hall suggests, a loss of the dreaded freshman 15.

Almost 30 less lbs of food were wasted this Tuesday during the dinner hours of 5 to 9 p.m. than last Tuesday since the start of the college's trayless week, according to Earth Emerson's initial findings.

Golden said the report was drafted by Earth Emerson members who scraped any remaining edible food from plates in the dining hall's kitchen on those days into a bucket and weighed it on a bathroom scale.

Emerson follows a long line of environmentally conscious tray-tossing institutions, including Alfred University, University of San Diego, University of Connecticut, Plymouth State in New Hampshire, Georgia Tech and Harvard University.

According to studies done by Plymouth State's Dining Hall General Manager Chris Mongeon, the school's eating facilities stand to reduce food waste by one third, which is roughly the equivalent of 260 pounds less refuse every day, by going trayless this semester.

Mongeon said Plymouth students returned from winter break to find a chocolate on their pillows, attached to a pamphlet that explained the nutritional and environmental rewards that would come from nixing trays.

"Most of our students understand where we're coming from," said Mongeon, who estimated that since the fall semester food waste is down 13 percent. "We feed 2,500 students, and I have about nine who are complaining."

Though Plymouth will not know exact figures regarding how much energy and water they're saving until statistics come through in March, Mongeon pointed out what he said was yet another benefit.

"The financial savings are definitely going to be passed down to students next semester," he said. "We're going to be charging less for room and board as a result of our savings."

While it seems as though the advantages far outweigh the hassles, some Emerson students say they still stand by their agitation about the change.

"I respect Emerson's attempt at environmentalism, but can't we do something that doesn't require me going back and forth for food 10 times?" said sophomore acting major Michael McNamara.

Freshman Amory Sivertson said she was motivated to shuck her grub holder before the initiative began to maintain healthy food portions.

"In the dining hall, where everything is buffet style, it's so easy to load up a tray with extra food," the musical theatre major said. "Not having a tray just lets me take what I need, and if I'm still hungry, it's not inconvenient to go up and get more food."

However, trayless dining-hall supporters and veterans alike seem to maintain an optimistic viewpoint about the initiative.

"Heck, when I was in college, we'd crush beer cans on our heads and throw them into the river," Mongeon said. "But as you mature, you learn how to treat the world around you."