Rutgers Ditches Dining Trays

By Christie Duffy

With higher education costs sky high, schools in New Jersey are finding savings in an unexpected place — dining halls.

“So far it’s been about 12 weeks and we’ve saved about $30,000 a week,” said Rutgers Dining Services Executive Director Joseph Charette.

Rutgers University is joining colleges across the country in ditching dinner trays.

“Students have been coming into my office for several years talking about trying to go trayless,” Charette said.

Charette says environmental concerns motivated students — wasted food, water and electricity.

“It kinda helps with the whole freshman 15 thing and the whole overeating. I know that’s a big problem. So trays, it’s kind of easy to just pile everything on,” said Rutgers freshman Anjelica Orsini.

“Before when I used to have the trays, you know there was a bigger space. So I would get like two to three plates of food and I would waste maybe one plate of food. That over time adds up. Now is what I eat and if I want more I can go up and eat more,” said Rutgers senior Vinay Shivakumar.

Before the university went trayless, they weighed all the uneaten food students left on their plate after meals. Then they went trayless in one dining hall and weighed students’ leftovers again. After ditching the trays, they found students were throwing away 20 percent less leftover food.

Rutgers has now done away with trays in three out if its four dining halls on the main campus. And they’re not the first to see cost savings this way. The vice president of student affairs at Bloomfield College estimates they’ve saved over $350,000 in the last year by losing lunch trays.

When asked where the savings are being invested, Bloomfield College Vice President of Student Affairs Patrick Lamy said, “Right back into the program, in the context that students have more options. The meal services have been expanded in terms of hours of service.”

Neither school reduced meal costs to students, but both say they’ve been able to keep prices steady at a time when raw costs are going up.

“The last two years in a row we’ve had unprecedented increases in the raw cost of foods,” Charette said.

So where does all the wasted food from Rutgers end up?

Charette says that for three generations, local farmers have been picking up the scraps to feed their livestock. But the university is now also using some new-age means of disposal.

The university says a lot of those scraps go into a machine called an aerobic digester where inside bacteria eats away at that food and puts out a liquid, which can go straight down the drain as opposed to, say, a landfill. The university also uses used cooking oil behind the counter to generate electricity on campus.

Charette says that waste-fueled electricity is used to preheat water coming back into the dining hall.