Analyzing Traylessness

I’ve been meaning to get around to this post for a while, but the buns keep piling up…

Anyway, without further ado, I present what I’m pretty sure is a first: a scholarly study on traylessness.

It was written by my food-waste friend Andy Sarjahani and two of his Virginia Tech colleagues, Elena Serrano and Rick Johnson. The study stemmed from a two-week experiment Andy ran back in 2008, when he weighed waste with and without trays. Andy Sarjahani tossing

There are a few ways of counting the reduced waste. If you use the total weight of tossed food, Tech had 30 percent less edible compostable (EC) waste without trays (I got 29.6%). But by comparing the mean waste per meal (as in Table 1), traylessness brought a 41 percent reduction.

One surprising result, as seen in Table 2, was the difference in waste at different meals. Food waste increased 76 percent from lunch to dinner. I’d guess that this probably reflects students eating quick lunches between classes and differing cultural perceptions of lunch and dinner.

The study also includes the following ideas on what food service companies can add:

Economic incentives for students not to waste, such as à la carte pricing; small batch cooking; sourcing locally grown and in-season foods; donating appropriate and safe leftovers to food banks and/or shelters; and composting what cannot be donated. Finally, educational efforts targeted toward students (and food service personnel) are essential in promoting awareness and supporting sustainable practices and any proposed changes.

In total, the paper is a nice piece of work, not surprising since the original project was partly responsible for the school going trayless in July 2008 and Andy getting hired as Tech’s Sustainability Director.

One final note: Andy has opined on multiple occasions that trays aren’t the real problem; all-you-can-eat is. As I quoted Andy in my original post on the study:

I think “all-you-can-eat” is really the culprit. Going trayless is like a cortisone shot—it treats the problem on the surface, but not at the root.

I agree, but removing trays is a pragmatic first step to reduce food waste.

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