What’s the first thing you do when you walk into a cafeteria? You automatically walk over to a stack of trays and pick one up, right? That’s not the case in many college cafeterias across the country that have decided to go trayless to save money, help the environment, and help curb food waste.

I first started reading about the trayless issue from Jonathan Bloom on his Wasted Food blog. He has written several posts on the topic - so many in fact that he even has a Trayless tab at the top of this blog. He’s been following the statistics on traylessness and the various institutions – mainly colleges – that are going trayless.

Yesterday The New York Times weighed in on the subject of going trayless in a post Without Cafeteria Trays, Colleges Find Savings.

So how does going trayless work some sort of financial and environmental magic? By forgoing trays here’s what typically happens.

  • Less food is taken. According to Bloom, a study was done by ARAMARK that found that when trays were removed from a college campus cafeteria, food waste decreased by 25-30 percent. Without the tray, students can only take what they can carry in two hands so they automatically take less.
  • Less food means less of an impact on the environment. The growing, raising, transporting and preservation of food has an affect on the environment. When food waste is curbed, so is the environmental impact that wasted food would have created.
  • Water is saved. Another positive environmental impact is the water that is saved in washing the trays. The New York Times piece reports that Williams College in Massachusetts has gone trayless in one of their dining halls. It estimated that 14,000 gallons of water will be saved each year in that particular trayless dining hall.
  • Money is saved. Food that isn’t eaten and gets thrown in the trash is just like throwing the money used to by the food in the trash. By curbing food waste, colleges can save a lot of money. Also, there is a small savings in trays don’t need to be bought and replaced. There is probably also a small savings in the water bill, too.
That’s quite an impact going trayless can have, don’t you think?

Image: Pathfinder Linden


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

The trend of going trayless
Trayless cafeterias are emerging on campuses to work some environmental and financial magic.