Removing dining hall trays to save food waste
Sometimes the most obvious sustainability issues are right under our noses, almost invisible because they are so visible.
I found an example of this on Greening the Campus, a sustainability blog maintained by Richard Johnson, Director of Sustainability at Rice University in Houston. Johnson teaches a course every fallin which his students use a Rice dining hall as a sort of sustainability laboratory.
In this case, the students looked at all-you-can-eat meals, and whether that all-you-can-eat feature resulted in student diners taking more food on to their trays, and then not eating all the food they took.
The not-too-surprising bottom line: Students in the all-you-can-eat group wasted a lot more food than students in a non-all-you-can-eat control group who were bombarded with don’t waste-food messages..
No big surprise there. But what was surprising was this: Big strides were made in preventing food waste by simply removing trays from the dining hall.
To test the findings, the students instituted “Wasteless Wednesdays,” in which trays were removed from several dining halls one day a week for four weeks. Early reactions among students were mixed, but food waste dropped around 30 percent on Wasteless Wednesdays. The use of kitchen water, energy, and cleaning chemicals also dropped significantly.
And the longer the experiment continued, the more student opposition faded away. The experiment was so successful that trays have now been removed from all Rice dining halls.
“We have come to discover that removing the tray is akin to removing a keystone, unleashing a variety of benefits,” Johnson said on his blog. “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.”
To learn more, visit the Rice blog at http://greeningthecampus.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/drop-the-tray/