In an all-you-can-eat buffet, the tendency is to pile it on — but, of course, the saying that "your eyes are too big for your stomach" usually holds true and you end up with more than you can possibly eat. These leftover scraps then get thrown out to rot in landfills, more water is used to clean the extra dishes, more chemicals swirl down the drains and more fuel and electricity is used to heat the water and run the dishwashers.
This was a daily scenario for the University of New Hampshire's three dinning halls that produced an estimated 5,000 pounds of food waste a week according to a 2007 press release. However the university devised a simple solution that is being used in universities across the country — remove the trays!
It's simple physics. Remove the trays and students will be limited to the amount of food they can carry in one trip. Thus reducing the "pile it on" mentality of the all-you-can-eat buffet.
UNH has removed trays completely from two of its three dining halls. Removing the trays alone saves the university about a half a gallon of water needed to wash each tray. So, serving about 70,000 meals a week (assuming each meal uses a tray) — the university could save 35,000 gallons of water a week by eliminating trays entirely, and this is the direction that UNH dinning is headed. UNH is not the only university to pursue this idea either; in 2009, The New York Times
wrote an excellent article
about the growing trend.
The idea is simple and very cost effective. UNH estimates that it is reducing waste and overall cost by about 30 percent simply by eliminating trays. Not only can this idea be used in universities, but it could easily be applied across the board: high school cafeterias, hospital cafeterias, business cafeterias and even buffet style restaurants could begin to reduce waste by eliminating trays. In a world where going green is fast becoming a new, major marketing tool, this is an easy foot in the door that has been proven to be effective and reduce overall costs.
UNH has taken the mission of reducing food waste another step further. Food waste that is still accumulated at its three dining halls is processed through food pulpers and composted for future use in the organic gardens and throughout the community. You can purchase this compost at local stores, including the Durham Market Place.
As a college guy, I do eat more than what is normally considered healthy, and I used to be an offender of wasting food. By loading up my tray I would inevitably throw away a pizza crust here and a half-eaten plate of fries there. But, this simple rule of physics has pinned me down to one plate and one cup at a time. By not using a tray I have managed to cut down my own waste of food, and taking multiple trips allows me to have a better gauge of what I can eat. I still eat like a college guy, but without a tray my peers and I have significantly reduced the amount of food that we waste.