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Michigan State U. leaders opt against green-policy push to do away with dining trays

The Michigan State University student government voted last fall to take plastic trays out of dining halls, arguing such a move would help the environment — but a campus spokeswoman told The College Fix last week that the resolution will not be implemented this fall.

Campus leaders will not put into place the student resolution, which is basically a recommendation and non-binding to administrators, said Emily Guerrant via email.

While campus officials are reviewing ways to reduce waste, the trays stay, she said.

“The university has looked into how it can reduce water usage in the cafeterias, and also post signs that students don’t have to take or use a tray if they don’t want to,” Guerrant told The Fix. “So collectively we’re looking at ways to be more sustainable.”

The decision to keep the dining room trays at Michigan State runs against a trend that has been seen on campuses across the nation for more than a decade.

In 2009, The New York Times reported that more than 100 campuses had eliminated trays, “part of a larger push to embrace environmentalism that includes hiring sustainability coordinators, introducing solar panels, composting dining-hall waste and encouraging students to turn off lights with catchy sayings like ‘Do It in the Dark.’”

Getting rid of dining trays reportedly reduces food and water waste, and helps students out on their own for the first time avoid overeating.

A 2012 study on trayless dining found a 32 percent reduction in food waste and a 27 percent reduction in dish use when trays were unavailable. A 2018 study of trayless dining found that it resulted in a significant decrease in the total number of plates and glasses used as well as dishes with leftovers.

In 2013, the University of Michigan banned its dining trays.

“Although a group of environmentally minded students pushed for U-M to toss its trays, a number of students surveyed did express concern over the inconvenience of not having a carrying mechanism for food in the dining halls,” the Ann Arbor News reported at the time. “During recent new student orientation, some students filled out comment cards asking a straightforward question: ‘Where are the trays?’”

There were also rumors that Michigan students were not using the trays for their intended purposes. One UM alumnus, who graduated in 2013, recently confirmed to The College Fix that students would take the trays from the dining halls and use them as sleds during snowfalls.

The Michigan State University student government resolution, passed in November 2019, stated that the “use of trays in dining halls across Michigan State University encourages excess food waste, water, and energy use.”

The resolution made an exception for students who require the trays in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I definitely have noticed people using the trays to take an absurd amount of food,” one Michigan State University junior told The Fix. “I’ve witnessed people with three or more plates full of food on their tray.”

While the resolution cited the sustainability and environmental benefits of its adoption, it also claimed to be a cost-cutting measure. “Food waste causes higher estimates for student food consumption, raising the cost of meal plans and dining passes,” it stated.

MORE: Dartmouth lets Green New Deal activist crash classes to campaign

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Charles Hilu is a student at the University of Michigan studying political science. His work has appeared in The Michigan Review. He serves as secretary of his Young Americans for Freedom chapter.