How would you react if someone took a quarter of all the groceries that you just purchased and tossed them directly into the trashcan?
Americans waste nearly 25 % of the food produced in this country and the environmental impact of these actions is widespread, touching on everything from water and energy consumption to the production of ozone depleting greenhouse gases. That’s 31 million tons in food waste every year. Thankfully, however, there are a few solutions that are catching on and helping to raise awareness about food waste. Trayless dining is one of them.
As the food service provider that led the trayless dining initiative in our industry beginning on Earth Day 2008, it is rewarding to see that the trend is spreading to others in our profession –all while helping students, campuses and communities alike to reap the environmental, economic and health benefits associated with going trayless.
Our efforts at well over half of the 650 college campuses that Sodexo serves have shown that trayless dining can reduce food waste by as much as 30%. Less waste also means less water, energy and chemical detergents required in the cleaning process. More importantly, it means that there will be significantly less food decaying in landfills, producing methane, a greenhouse gas, which is at least 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Beyond the sustainability argument for dining operations, going trayless encourages healthier eating habits for students in terms of portion control. It has been shown that with a trayless approach, students are more likely to eat what they carry back to the table as opposed to returning and discarding half eaten food from overloaded trays. Finally, from a cost standpoint, trayless dining also greatly reduces the expense involved with purchasing and replacing trays.
Yes, there will still be students who wax nostalgic about the extracurricular uses of dining hall trays. However, as they become increasingly aware of the benefits of going trayless, this too will fade.
Kirt Ingram, senior vice president of operations at Sodexo, was an early champion of trayless dining and first piloted the program at multiple campus locations in 2007.