By Julia Guest
The long, arduous school day ends and, boy, are you hungry.
You head for the dining hall, where you can satisfy any craving: pizza, lasagna, mashed potatoes, salad, watermelon, mint chocolate chip cookies, you name it. Thank goodness you can fit it all on that plastic tray, right?
Wrong — at least not on “Trayless Tuesday,” when the Porter/Kresge Dining Hall doesn’t provide a single tray.
The dining hall withheld trays as an experiment to test waste reduction. Porter and Kresge students had to make do with only plates for the day, while volunteers from the Student Environmental Center (SEC) and Dining Hall staff scraped food from dishes they used in order to weigh and calculate wasted ounces of food per person.
The experiment was effective: When students use plates without trays, the amount of waste decreases by one ounce per plate.
The trayless event took place on Zero Waste Event Day, Jan. 29, although efforts to curb dining hall waste began well before then.
Audits occur at all dining halls around campus at least once a month, but dining hall waste audits began two and half years ago, thanks to the Student Environmental Center. This year, the Porter/Kresge Dining Hall was the first to complete its audit, so it was the also the first to introduce the trayless method.
Wade Garza, unit manager for the dining hall, and Candy Berlin, UCSC’s dining hall coordinator, offered the trayless idea when they found that other university dining halls — those, for example, at Middlebury College, Dartmouth College, the Univeristy of Minnesota and Alfred University — don’t use trays and have managed to significantly reduce waste.
Berlin said that Dartmouth College reduced its food waste by 50 percent.
Garza decided that a day without trays would be an advantageous experiment.
“When students have a bigger area to fill, they tend to take larger portions. Because it is all-you-can-eat, students also tend to take more than they can actually eat,” Garza said. “If we can reduce enough waste, we can use our money more wisely to buy what students really want.”
Vilma Serrano, a second-year Porter student, had difficulty accepting the trayless test. “It was really inconvenient because I had to make more trips than I would have liked to,” Serrano said. “People should be able to have a choice between using trays or not using trays.”
Garza said that all five dining halls plan to go trayless at some point during the year, but there won’t be plans to remove trays completely until the dining halls accumulate more experiential results.
Berlin also recognizes that waste reduction will lower the cost of food and, in turn, the cost of a meal plan. However, the first step toward waste reduction is not to immediately take trays away from students, she said, but to spread awareness about how students can make conscious decisions to individually reduce waste during each meal.
“We all want to get value for our money, but our next goal is to find somehow and somewhere we can start composting on a larger scale,” Berlin said. “We want to raise awareness about the amount of food students take and eat.”
Natalie Stameroff, SEC waste prevention coordinator, considers the trayless idea a good way to test students’ reactions, but she is not sure that removing trays on campus would be the most effective method. Stameroff explained to a group of frustrated students on “Trayless Tuesday” why this was essential for waste reduction, but wondered if students really understood the implications.
“I want to introduce the infrastructure for a composting system to students and the administration,” Stameroff said. “Hopefully, students will understand how many resources it takes to grow the food and package it. A lot more energy is used before just preparing the food itself.”
Though the trayless test met some resistance, dining halls will continue to search for ways to reduce waste. “I like the idea of a sustainable organization that is more in partnership with the students,” Garza said. “But sometimes being green or sustainable isn’t the easiest change to make.”