By CHRISTINE CHUNG
Students eating in Driscoll Dining Hall tomorrow will find themselves balancing more than their diets: diners will have to juggle plates and cups in the first Trayless Thursday, the latest in a series of sustainability initiatives by Dining Services. For the remainder of the year, Driscoll plans take its trays out of circulation every Thursday in an effort to reduce the waste of food and water.
Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services, hopes the Thursday policy will help reduce the roughly 20 tons of food waste produced at the College each year.
He credits the idea of Trayless Thursdays to Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. He mentioned recent successes at peer institutions, including a 50 percent reduction in the amount of food waste at Dartmouth, as a major impetus for the new measures.
Driscoll staff may not necessarily adopt Trayless Thursdays as a permanent strategy, but rather as an attempt to test methods of waste-reduction. The rationale behind the project is that with a large tray in hand, students are prone to loading their trays up with food, much of which is later thrown away.
“Because it is an ‘all-you-can-eat’ mentality, students tend to take much more than they actually do eat,” Volpi said. Gayle Donohue, unit manager of Driscoll, echoed Volpi’s sentiments. “As a manager, it is disheartening to see food thrown away, after all of the effort of our chefs,” she said.
In addition to reducing food waste, cutting down on the use of trays will also significantly decrease the amount of time, labor, water and energy devoted to washing them. The Driscoll dishwashing machines wash six trays at a time, and each cycle takes one minute to run. “We serve 600 people per day, so 100 minutes a day are spent washing trays, and we wash about 4200 trays per week,” Donohue said. She estimated that 70 gallons of water would be saved for every day the dining halls do not use trays.
Donohue outlined several measures in place to minimize the inconveniences associated with taking trays out of circulation. Each table will be equipped with silverware, and more plates and utensils will be placed by the salad bar and the soup station.
“We will be watching carefully and making adaptations,” Donohue said, also mentioning considerations for implementing an express line in the future if Trayless Thursdays goes well. “If we didn’t have the tray issue, we wouldn’t have these long lines that students who only wanted to go to the salad bar have to wait in,” she said. “Students could merely swipe and then go right or left easily.”
Driscoll employees hope that going trayless, in addition to providing financial and environmental benefits, will make the dining hall experience less stifling and cafeteria-like. “I’ve always felt that trays were a remnant of institutional, cafeteria-style feeding,” Volpi said. “It was created by concepts we introduced, the ‘all-you-can-eat’ mentality, and now we are starting to pull back and think about what’s better, health-wise and for the environment.”
Trayless Thursdays will be introduced on a weekly basis at Driscoll starting tomorrow, but if it goes well, the practice may be introduced at other dining halls, with the exception of Whitmans’. “It certainly could become contagious, and if it is embraced, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be permanently adopted,” Donohue said.
This decision will be based on the amount of waste reduced, and thus the amount of money and resources saved. “We would notice cost and waste reductions immediately, because currently every bag of compost is weighed as a part of the RecycleMania program,” Volpi said.
Potential savings from waste reduction would go to increasing the amount of organic food served, which is especially economical given recent hikes in food costs, including a 20 percent increase in the prices of dairy products. “We have increased non-meat offerings and this has whammied us financially,” Volpi said. “Waste-reduction would be a wonderful way to combat inflationary costs.”
Dining Services is currently looking for other ways to “go green,” including planning a specialized team to go to a Boston tradeshow to gather more information about sustainable dining. According to Volpi, smaller trays and lighter, larger plates have been considered, in addition to the permanent elimination of trays which could lead to the use of larger plates, perhaps akin to the oval-shaped Paresky plate. Plans are also in place to make the catering department of Dining Services more efficient. Volpi mentioned an idea to design a sustainable menu where clients would have biodegradable and organic options, a system already in place at Yale.
The Driscoll staff is enthusiastic about eliminating the tray, but less keen on the idea of replacing the plate with the ubiquitous Paresky to-go box. Both Donohue and Volpi call themselves proponents of the “slow-food” movement, and are against introducing the Grab-and-Go feel to the dining halls. “We want to promote a sense of community in our dining halls,” Donohue said.
The decision to go trayless was made with input from the Food Committee, an offshoot of College Council.
Additional reporting by Molly Hunter ’09, staff writer.