SEAC trayless initiative reduces food, water waste

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April 18, 2008

2:34 AM

The Student Environmental Action Coalition and College Dining Services recently released data from the trayless trial days, during which trays were not used in the Commons Dining Hall.

The experiment took away trays during lunch Thursdays and Fridays over the last few weeks as an active effort to both reduce food and water waste and promote eco-friendly eating.

On days without trays, food waste averaged .161 pounds of waste per diner, compared to .206 pounds per diner on days with trays — a drop of 18.5 percent on Thursdays and 24.6 percent on Fridays.

“I think it was a successful run,” SEAC Facilitator Zach Miller ’08 said. “However, [the data] was fairly inconclusive.”

Miller attributed problems in data collection to inconsistencies in measuring practices. The warm weather also influenced numbers, Miller said, as more people opted for take-out meals, making waste accumulation difficult to judge.

During the trial period, waste was calculated by weighing leftover food in buckets before they were sent to the dishwasher. Despite the minor differences, Miller said SEAC’s food-measurement system worked for raising awareness.

“It was a visible reminder of the food they were wasting when they saw someone dumping it,” he said. “Someone came up to me later and said ‘Why’d they bring the trays back? We don’t need them.’”

Calculating water usage proved more convincing. For each lunch without trays, the Caf was able to cut dishwasher use by an hour and a half and saved 168 gallons of water per hour.

Commons Dining Director Larry Smith, better known to students as “Caf Man,” estimated that without trays, dishwasher use could be cut by as much as 22.75 hours, or 3,822 gallons of water, per week. Over the course of the academic year, 122,304 gallons of water would be saved if trays were eliminated completely. While Smith felt complete tray elimination would be both unnecessary and unfeasible, he said he would be working with dining services to execute a reduction in trays over the coming academic year.

“There is a good chance we will implement some kind of trayless program,” Smith said.

SEAC and Dining Services collaborated in a survey offered to those who dined during trayless hours. Of the 200 responses received, 81percent were in favor of the program and for future, more permanent implementation.

Such approval, Miller said, is a call for action.

“We in the Food Sustainability Committee want to see [the trayless program] expanded all over campus,” he said. “We feel like this is an area where we can make progress.”

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