Ditching Cafeteria Trays for the Environment

Several schools across the country have begun experimenting with and implementing cafeteria tray bans in hopes of reducing waste and water usage in dining halls.

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Could this be the end of tray sledding? Several schools across the country have begun experimenting with and implementing cafeteria tray bans in hopes of reducing waste and water usage in dining halls. In the South, where drought is a constant concern, North Carolina State University stopped using trays two weeks ago and has since seen a "downward trend" in water usage typically dedicated to washing trays. A handful of other schools—UC-San Diego, San Francisco State University, Middlebury College, Alfred University, and Colby College—have implemented similar tray bans in efforts to reduce waste.

Ohio University is in the midst of a multitiered "food waste audit," which has included experimenting with tray removal for a handful of meals. In one dining hall, officials found there were 75 fewer pounds of waste on a day that trays were not distributed than a day when they were.

Harvard's adventure in trayless dining hasn't proven as successful. Although the experiment produced 22 percent less waste on a tray-free day than a typical day, dining services decided not to continue its trial of "Trayless Thursdays." No specific reason was given, and trays may ultimately disappear from cafeterias in the future, but for now—at least according to one student—trayless dining was a "really impractical concept that was more of a hassle than it was worth."