News Release: Student Life, Sustainability

Sep. 3,  2009

Trayless Dining Serves Up Surprising Results

News Article ImageHands-on dining for Oxford students

From Emory Report

There’s been a menu change this fall at Lil’s Dining Hall at Oxford College.

The trayless pilot program, introduced at Oxford in January, required diners to carry their plates of food rather than pile them on a tray. Throughout the spring semester, there was a 14,587-pound reduction in food waste compared to the same semester one year earlier. The program was so successful it will be implemented permanently this fall at Oxford College.

The national trayless trend is prevalent at schools with active sustainability and waste reduction programs. Schools with trayless programs have seen decreases in water consumption since trays no longer need to be washed, and significant reductions in food waste per person averaging 25 to 30 percent. Students at other schools reported a sense of satisfaction in knowing that their efforts support sustainability and an overall reduction in food waste.

“The amount of food we consume, and especially the amount we waste are significant variables in our environmental impact,” says Oxford College Dean Stephen Bowen. “As the son of parents who grew up during the Great Depression, I was taught to be thoughtful about how much food I took and if I took it, it was my responsibility not to waste it. That message seems to have been attenuated through the intervening generations. But absent those specific values, it is amazing to see what the absence of a tray can do to improve food use efficiency.”

The Oxford pilot project decreased overall food consumption, which resulted in savings of approximately $800 per month for overall food purchases at Oxford’s dining facility. Savings from the program are being reinvested at Oxford College into menu options that feature more locally grown fruits and vegetables, part of Emory’s sustainability goal to purchase 75 percent local or sustainably grown food by 2015.

According to Patty Erbach, senior director of Emory Dining, the trayless program at Oxford is one of several new awareness programs occurring in Emory’s dining facilities. Starting this past summer at the Dobbs University Center and Wesley Woods, pre-consumer food waste, or cooking waste, began to be collected and hauled to Georgia’s first state-permitted composting facility. In the first seven weeks at the DUC, that program collected and composted 1.5 tons of food waste. Food waste-composting programs support Emory’s overall goal of diverting 65 percent of its waste from landfills by 2015.

Starting this fall, diners at the DUC are being asked to scrape excess food from their own plates into bins, where food waste is collected and later composted. “Physically dumping excess food into a bin of uneaten food is a powerful, visual way to reinforce the concept of taking only what you can eat,” says Erbach. As to the future of trayless dining at Emory’s other dining facilities, Erbach says the program may well expand once logistical hurdles specific to each facility are overcome. “As diners understand the rationale behind the change, we hope to build on the success at Oxford.”

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