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The school lunchroom grows green

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In addition to the water saved, the dining hall also used 473 pounds less dishwashing detergent that year. Even more interesting, Ms. Ruby adds: “We also noticed a 40 percent reduction in the amount of food waste.” Because students couldn’t carry as much, she explains, they didn’t take more than they could eat.

ARAMARK, a food-service provider for some 600 institutions of higher education, conducted a survey of 25 schools that found that trayless dining reduced waste by an average of 25 to 30 percent. When it asked 92,000 students at 300 colleges about getting rid of trays in cafeterias and dining halls, 75 percent said they were in favor of the change.

But the range of initiatives is as varied as the institutions. “We’re at the pioneering stage,” says David Krueger, codirector of the sustainability program at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. “All of these bottom-up local initiatives [on college campuses] mimic the larger sustainability movement. It’s a carbon copy of trends across the spectrum.”

The University of Illinois, which already has its own apple orchard, is breaking ground on a 10-acre farm this summer – complete with frost protection to extend the growing season – that it hopes will be able to supply up to 50 percent of its vegetable needs.

The school is also moving forward with other ecofriendly efforts: A composting program will be started at the same time as the vegetable garden. And for the past three years, facilities management vehicles have run on cooking oil collected from dining halls.

“I don’t think we’re done,” says Ruby, noting that the university plans to roll out trayless dining in more of its halls. “Sustainability is definitely a continuing work in progress.”

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