February 5, 2013

Students Lead The Way In A Greener Campus Cafeteria

Back in 2009, American University (AU) tried to implement a tray-less cafeteria. When imposed from the top down, students rebelled. They did not like the possibility of going to the cafeteria without having a tray to carry their food on.

Then, according to a statement from AU, the AU administration and Bon Appetit (AU’s food service provider) contacted AU professor Kiho Kim and asked him to conduct a scientific study in conjunction with students on campus to figure out what the results of a tray-less cafeteria would be. Kim worked with science students as well as communication students (for the purpose of spreading the word on what was happening through the study) and found a 30-40 percent reduction in waste when trays were no longer present.

The students loved doing the PR and collecting the data, but presenting the information to the administration and food service provider really drove their excitement because they saw an immediate result; trays were removed based on the students’ findings.

But Kim did not want to stop there. He decided to do an even more in-depth study of the impact of removing trays. “Our concern was that all of these other institutions were jumping on the bandwagon in the absence of data,” Kim said of the trend of universities tossing out trays.

Kim wanted other schools to make the move based on sound scientific data and research. Up to that point, the only real data came from an industry study, which was not nearly as reliable as a scientific study. So Kim and his team stepped in to fill the gaps.

The AU statement explained that Kim and his environmental science students made dining hall trays selectively and randomly available or unavailable during lunch and dinner. The researching students collected dishes from the cafeteria students (both those with trays and without) and weighed the food waste.

Results for the 360 diners surveyed showed that going trayless:

  • Led to a 32 percent reduction in food waste.
  • Resulted in a 27 percent reduction in dish use.

Kim and his team said that those findings suggested that “removing trays is a simple way for universities and other dining facilities to reduce their environmental impact and save money.”

And voila! Kim was able to provide scientific evidence to help other campuses remove trays.

The cafeteria tray seems to be on its way out, a memory of the past. Now students can just pick what food they can carry, which means less wasted food and wasted dishes. The impact will only benefit campuses. Not only will they throw away less uneaten food, but they also will save money and energy in washing dishes.

For colleges and universities interested in lessening their environmental impact, Kim’s studies provide solid support to help them move toward a greener campus.

What I really like about this statement is the emphasis not only on scientific research and its practical uses, but also the way students were involved. To some extent, they were in charge of the research. This would allow them to see how what they are learning in school classrooms can be applied to their daily lives.

So often students miss out on these opportunities. Thus, they do not understand why they have to take a certain class. Having them lead the research study makes them active in decision making and, more importantly, compels them to apply what they are learning. Totally cool.

Research like this should happen more often on college and university campuses. Sharing the impact of studies and decision making will only help all involved feel more connected to the institution, and this can only lead to a better school.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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