Nine plates, eight mugs, seven cups and two bowls littered the table as a group of seven Bryn Mawr students ate brunch on Sunday afternoon. But there was a staple of college dining not on the table-trays.
Bryn Mawr is just one of many colleges and universities eliminating dining hall trays in an attempt to save money and promote sustainable practices on campus.
Emily Flynn, manager of Special Projects at the Sustainable Endowments Institute, said the number of schools going “traylesss” has increased dramatically over the past few years.
Flynn said when the Institute first questioned schools about sustainability practices in 2006, none reported having a trayless option. This year, 75% of the 291 surveyed institutions had some sort trayless dining option.
Flynn said the trayless movement has caught on because it’s simple and cost-effective.
Bernie Chung-Templeton, the director of Dining Services at Bryn Mawr, said that saving money was one of the reasons the college made the jump to trayless dining.
A senior-level math class found that eliminating trays could cause significant savings in washing costs. Without trays, the school would need less water, cleaning chemicals and labor in the dish room.
Chung-Templeton said the school has not seen huge savings in cleaning costs. Bryn Mawr had always used recycled water to wash its dishes and trays, and the lack of trays means that tables and chairs need to be cleaned more often.
In contrast, Gayle Donohue a dining hall manager at Williams College in Massachusetts said her school has seen water savings since going trayless in 2008.She estimated that it took 1 gallon of water to wash 10 trays and the college used 150,000 trays each year.
Both Donohue and Chung-Templeton reported seeing a significant reduction in food waste after eliminating trays.
Donohue said that not having a tray has changed the all-you-can eat mentality college students sometime have. They’re forced to get up multiple times each meal and think if they really want a second piece of cake.
A 2008 study by Aramark Food Services on the effects of trayless dining found that food waste per-person fell nearly 30%.
Representatives at Bryn Mawr and Williams said that while they appreciate the economic savings associated with going trayless, it is also a sustainable practice.
“Buying less food saves money,” said Bryn Mawr’s Chief Operating Officer Jerry Berenson, “but it’s also a sustainability issue.”
Donohue echoed this point. “We just know it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
Flynn referred to the trayless movement as the “unsung hero” of campus sustainability efforts. She said it often leads to campuses to other sustainable efforts.
“It’s one of the ways people can start small,” she said, “It’s a gateway into more sustainable practices.”
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