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Harrisonburg: EMU goes trayless

Story by Andrea Schrock Wenger

Eastern Mennonite University’s dining hall went trayless beginning Wednesday, Oct. 22, joining hundreds of other colleges across the country eliminating wasted water, energy, food and time.

“This is not new,” says Pioneer Catering director Bruce Emmerson. “It’s a trend that has been happening across the country for years. EMU students have begun asking for this change, and I feel it’s time for us to join the trend.”

Eliminating the use of trays in the dining hall will save approximately 280,000 gallons of hot water a year, significant amounts of soap, hours of staff time and food scraps.

“‘Trayless’ means diners will think about the food and drinks they take, rather than mindlessly filling up their tray” said Emma Stahl-Wert, coordinator for the campus environmental group, Earthkeepers.

Stahl-Wert, a sophomore applied sociology major with emphasis in environmental science, has documented food waste in EMU’s dining hall together with Laura Cattell, a senior double major in environmental studies and justice, peace and conflict studies.

“People have definitely grown more aware of food waste since they’ve seen us measuring what gets scraped off of trays and plates,” says Cattell. “This next step will result in even less waste, we believe.”

Undoubtedly, some will miss the convenience of trays, Emmerson admits. “People will get used to it,” he says, noting that he has never once used a tray since beginning his work at EMU in July 2006. “It feels more like home if you don’t use a tray.”

Trays will be available on request for those who may need one for reasons related to disability, or for visiting families with young children. “We do want to offer a hospitable environment,” Emmerson concludes. “I predict the trayless dining all will feel like a regular part of our EMU culture in a short time.”

The removal of trays from the dining hall is a small addition to campus-wide sustainability efforts at EMU. A video featuring the campus composting class and garden project can be seen at