ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Well, now a very different kind of change coming to many college and university campuses. To save money and energy, some schools are getting rid of that old lunchroom mainstay, the tray. Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF reports.
SANDY HAUSMAN: It's lunchtime at one of the University of Virginia's cafeterias, and third year biology major Graden Bowman(ph) is enjoying some of her favorite foods.
Ms. GRADEN BOWMAN (Student, University of Virginia): Pizza, onion rings, taco salad, yeah, and some home fries doused in some sort of cheese sauce.
HAUSMAN: But it now takes Bowman three trips through the cafeteria to amass her meal because the university no longer provides trays. Dining director Brett Barringer(ph) says the decision came after his company, food service giant ARAMARK, studied 25 campus cafeterias and learned it takes a half gallon of water to clean a single tray.
Mr. BRETT BARRINGER (Dining Director, ARAMARK): About 35 percent of the water we use goes to just washing trays. Plus, add into that the electricity to run the dish machines, the soap used, all those kinds of things, it's just absolutely huge.
HAUSMAN: At Georgia Tech for example, managers figured they could save 3,000 gallons of water a day. And with parts of the South still battling a multiyear drought, 80 percent of students surveyed at UVA said they were willing to make the sacrifice. Among them, Caroline Higgins(ph).
Ms. CAROLINE HIGGINS (Student, University of Virginia): It is a little inconvenient, but at the same time I think it's worth it for the drought and saving water.
HAUSMAN: But many students, including sophomore pre-med Amy Rogers(ph) and Matt McDonald(ph), a second year majoring in mechanical engineering, say no trays, no way.
Ms. AMY ROGERS (Student, University of Virginia): All I have is a soup and like a side, and I can't even carry my drink. So, I miss the trays, yeah.
Mr. MATT MCDONALD (Student, University of Virginia): It wastes my energy to go back and get everything. It takes up time, and it clogs all the cafeteria with everyone walking around having to get their stuff again. Whereas you can just make one trip, sit down, and then eat and leave.
HAUSMAN: But the trays are likely gone for good. Not only is their disappearance a plus for the environment, Barringer says there are health and financial considerations. Aramark found students take about a quarter less food if they go trayless, a good thing with obesity on the rise. And, he says, less food is wasted.
Mr. BARRINGER: In the average lunch, about 880 pounds of food waste was going right into the trashcan.
HAUSMAN: Money saved on food and landfill charges might offset rising food and energy costs holding the price of student meal plans down. So far, ARAMARK and rival Sodexo report more than 500 colleges and universities from California to Florida are onboard. And Sodexo has introduced one more change in campus cafeterias, a device that prevents students from grabbing handfuls of napkins by dispensing one at a time. Sodexo spokesman Jaya Bowman(ph) says, that's cut napkin use in half.
Ms. JAYA BOWMAN (Spokesman, Sodexo): And what this has translated into in just one year is a savings of nearly 10 million gallons of water, and more than 23,000 trees saved, half a million gallons of oil, and five and a half million kilowatts of energy.
HAUSMAN: Bowman says trends often begin at universities. And this one, green dining in the cafeteria, is likely to spread to corporate locations. What's more, it's taking hold in high school lunchrooms, suggesting future college freshmen will find nothing controversial about conserving napkins and going trayless on campus. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville, Virginia.