Mississippi State University’s dining halls, specifically Fresh Food Company and The Perry Cafeteria, will soon hand out reusable to-go trays, rather than the paper trays currently in use. This effort is in an attempt to decrease the amount of waste MSU’s dining halls produce, as well as to save the campus money in the long run.
Michael Folse, the co-director of Research and Development of the MSU Student Association, is one of the main progenitors of the new program. After watching a Vox Media video on the University of California Merced’s reusable tray program, Folse began to work toward bringing a similar program to MSU’s campus.
Merced’s campus utilizes the OZZI system, which consists of a number of kiosks distributing and collecting proprietary trays for consumers to use and then return for cleaning. The system MSU will integrate is conducted through Aramark, which has implemented similar systems at other campuses in the Southeastern Conference.
As the program is currently proposed, students will go to their preferred dining hall, scan their IDs as normal and receive one of the new, clean to-go trays. After finishing their meal, students will remove any refuse from the tray, rinse it and return it to a dining hall when they are done to have the cycle begin anew.
Folse and his co-workers in the Student Association are still trying to finalize how the program will be funded, possibly through the SA itself. Additionally, the SA is conducting a trial run, consisting of 25 freshmen, to sample student attitudes and concerns with the program.
If implemented, the reusable trays will entirely replace the current paper trays.
“A lot of MSU’s master plan is commitments to going green, getting into more reusable programs, and I think this program is a great way to help align ourselves with that goal,” Folse said.
James Jankowski, resident district manager of Aramark at MSU, explained the system will save the campus money in the long run, as the dinning halls will no longer have to purchase mass amounts of disposable trays and other waste items. Therefore, the program will have an initial increase in cost for the campus, but will see a decrease in overall expenditures further in the future. Jankowski also shared Folse’s sustainability-oriented sentiments.
“The long-term goal of a new, reusable tray system would be to limit and eventually cease the use of styrofoam on campus for waste minimization and environmental sustainability,” Jankowski said.
Christine Lashley, MSU's sustainability coordinator, explained the necessity for reusable trays, seeing as MSU’s recycling capabilities are limited. MSU has to work around the recycling abilities of recycling centers off-campus, which do not process much of the waste MSU produces.
Though the current paper trays are compostable, the university does not have a facility to send them to, so they are sent to a landfill with the rest of MSU’s garbage. To combat this, Lashley emphasized the reduction of waste production by reusability.
“We have to have clean air, clean water and a nice good planet to sustain life, and when we’re putting things in the garbage, we’re just burying them in the earth,” Lashley said.