From the spring to fall semesters in 2008, the university reduced its waste per week by roughly 30 percent, despite the fact that the student population increased by 1,000. And by the 2009 fall semester, the university had reduced its food waste by 48 percent, essentially meeting its goal.
"When we went trayless, it was all done through a student group initiative," Rodriguez says. "Our staff met with many of the students and explained our sustainability goals, and they took the lead on a trayless dining initiative and told us this is what they wanted."
UT donates any leftover pre-consumer food that isn't composted to nearby homeless shelters and food drives. "We blast chill what food we can so we know temperatures have been properly maintained and donate that to organizations in the area," Rodriguez says.
Trayless dining, in addition to helping reduce food waste, has also contributed to a reduction in water and energy use, according to Rodriguez.
The university switched from a flight-type dishmachine, once necessary for washing thousands of trays. While the previous unit consumed an average of 300 gallons of water per hour, the newer, more energy-efficient model uses only 98 gallons of water per hour and has a bonus heat-recovery system to save energy.
"Our converted dishroom area uses a pulping system to grind up all the leftovers, and remove the excess water," Rodriguez says. "This has saved us quite a bit of space in our trash and compost bins. Where we emptied five or six times in a meal period in the past, we now empty it maybe only once." The pulping system also uses recycled water, rather than fresh, to continue the water-saving efforts.
As part of the water management initiative, the university added the basics ‚Äì low-flow, pre-rinse spray valves; faucet aerators; and, in some areas low-flow toilets.
Sourcing from as many local farms and producers as possible has been a UT mission from the beginning of the renovation project.
"We have a strong relationship with the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) of Austin, and, in fact, we are their largest purchaser," Mangrum says, noting the campus receives weekly or bi-weekly deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, grass-fed beef and other foods, depending on availability. "Approximately 20 percent to 22 percent of our food budget goes to local, sustainable purchases, and we are committed to increase that figure each year as long as our local farmers can match our needs."
The SFC collects produce and other foods from Austin farmers within a 35-mile range and distributes the goods back out to area restaurants and other foodservice facilities. As part of the university's Farm to Work program, students and other volunteers coordinate deliveries and help manage a staff and faculty community-supported agriculture (CSA) program whereby subscribing staff members receive weekly deliveries of local, seasonal produce.
Like many other universities and restaurants, UT has also gone uber-local, building their own gardens and mini-farms they can self manage. Located just east of the main campus, the new, student-run UT Micro Farm joins the UT Concho Community Garden to serve as both a teaching farm for students as well as a source for extra produce for the campus kitchens. The UT Micro Farm sits on about an acre of land that was cleared in the spring of 2012, according to Mangrum.
In addition to rows of leafy greens and squash along with other seasonal, native vegetables and plants, the farm boasts fruit trees and some raised beds for tomatoes and herbs. The farm also has a greenhouse for year-round growing and early-spring seeding. Large steel drums collect rainwater for irrigation needs and to divert dependency on costly city-supplied water. A portion of the produce and herbs are pickled and minimally processed for salsas and other specialty items, using strict food-safety practices.