‘Trayless’ Trend Continues

NWF   |   April 29, 2009

Florida - 5_small This may only happen once, but we've scooped the New York Times. Today's article on trayless dining at universities is good, but nothing earth-shattering if you read ours (Students Have Their Hands Full Saving Food, Energy and Water) in the fall.

The energy and environmental benefits of trayless dining are pretty straightforward. Our story cited that in the United States, "more than 25% of food produced for consumption goes to waste,
and food leftovers are the largest component, by weight, of the waste
stream in the United States." So, when students lose access to trays, they take less food, and therefore less is wasted, which saves money and
also reduces the amount that will eventually produce methane in a landfill
if not composted or treated with an anaerobic digester.

But not everyone eliminates the trays out of concern for the environment. The NYT story highlights Skidmore College's trayless program, which began "between the spring and fall semesters in 2006, when the
cafeteria, the Murray-Aikins Dining Hall, underwent a $10 million overhaul. For the most part, when students returned in the fall, they were so dazzled by
the transformation of the cafeteria that they hardly noticed the missing trays.
The renovated dining hall has three slate fireplaces and a half-dozen food
stations, including a do-it-yourself griddle for eggs. Three of the chefs are
graduates of the Culinary
Institute of America, and all the pasta, granola and baked goods are made on
site. Officials said their decision to go trayless was mainly about atmosphere, though
they welcomed any ecological benefit. 'In our thinking, the trays were
institutional, along with the conveyor belts, and we really wanted to move away
from that,' said Christine Kaczmarek, director of business services at Skidmore."

Of course, Skidmore is only one school to join a growing trend towards trayless dining, which Jonathan Bloom tracks at Wasted Food. The Sustainable Endowments Institute says that 126 of the 300 schools they monitor have experimented with trayless dining, and one ARAMARK study examined meals at 25 colleges and universities to find that on
trayless days, food waste was reduced by 25% to 30% per person,
or about one-quarter to one-half pound of food per person per day.

Richard Johnson, the Director of Sustainability for Rice University in Houston, Texas, also blogged on dropping trays, saying, "Back in the kitchen, the H&D staff reported that plate waste had
dropped 30% (the same amount as had been achieved by the educational
campaign in 2005), and that the use of water, energy, and cleaning
chemicals to wash plates and trays had dropped by almost 10%. They were intrigued. On
a typical day in this particular dining hall, they would spend about
$1000 per lunch period on food costs, not including the labor for
preparation or associated utilities. What if they could reduce the amount of food that they needed to prepare? And not just for lunch, but for dinner and breakfast too (which together cost about another $1,000 per day just for the food)?"

He continues: "We have come to discover that removing the tray is akin to removing a keystone, unleashing a variety of benefits. In
addition to those already discussed, there are additional energy and
labor savings related to reducing the quantity of food to be cooked. Arguably, trayless dining also improves the health of students by discouraging over-eating. I continue to hear from students that they pay more attention to the food that they consume now that the trays are gone."

Image Credit: Dr. Ann C. Wilkie, University of Florida-IFAS

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Published: April 29, 2009