Ditch trays, save food?

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September 12, 2008

12:04 PM

Let’s go trayless and save the planet. If you’ve taken a look at the comment board at the Caf recently, you have noticed that the one dominant issue covering the entire board — and using every comment card provided — is the removal of trays.

On one side are the advocates for the removal, and on the other are those who want the trays back — one card calling it a move of “environmental nazis.” It is feel-good policies similar to this that trivialize the environmental movement and feed its stereotypical image of caring more about trees than people.
The comprehensive study on the effect of trayless dining by Aramark — the international company that provides many colleges with their meal programs — concluded from 186,000 meals at 25 colleges that going trayless reduces the average amount of wasted food per person from 3.0 to 1.8 ounces.

However, the conclusion reached by Aramark has been disputed on the matter of causation versus correlation. An alternative explanation given was that since the 25 colleges included in the study were also conducting a food conservation campaign focusing on the principle, “communication is the key to success,” the improved awareness may have had as big of a role in reducing waste as going trayless.

Besides the conflicting explanations on why colleges going trayless has produced less waste, there are other factors that must be considered. The trays themselves do more than prevent students from having to undertake balancing acts; they catch food that falls onto the table while they’re eating. From firsthand knowledge, the tables in the Caf have seemed to be more messy than usual. Now rather than circling around looking for an open table, you go around looking for a table without pineapple and lettuce on it. The water saved from not washing a tray will only be used to clean the floors and tables.

Don’t forget the general principle that forcing change upon people rather than educating them on the benefits of such a move is prone to backlash. Rather than citing an abstract example, just look at the effects trayless dining has had at other colleges. As quickly as trayless dining has spread to colleges across the nation so has the mocking of trayless dining, leading many colleges to experience “Wasteful Wednesday” in a mockery of “Trayless Tuesday.”

The importance of education on this subject reaches even further beyond the 1.2 ounces of reduced waste per person; it can change the long-term behavior of students at the College of William and Mary. What’s four years in college reducing food waste compared to a lifetime of awareness of portion sizes and wasted food?

The current policy of removing trays is a feel-good policy that trivializes the environmental movement. At the end of the day, just removing trays will give us all a warm, cuddly feeling that we’ve helped the environment at mealtime while we would otherwise go about our days wasting as usual.
The change needed to help the environment is increased awareness of how our little choices add up to affect the environment, not revoking the choice of students to use trays with coercive force. Keep the trays, keep the dialogue and keep the education.

Let students, organizations and those flimsy folded papers on tables spread awareness. Let the College be a leader in environmental awareness rather than a leader in empty gestures.

Brandon Pizzola is a sophomore at the College.

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