Fairfield University’s "trayless" student dining hall dramatically reduces food waste


Fairfield University's student dining hall has gone "trayless," part of an ongoing campus-wide green initiative. It is proving to be an avenue for significantly reducing food waste, water and energy usage at Fairfield.

Students now solely use plates to gather their food at mealtimes in the Barone Campus Center dining hall. This has resulted so far in less food and beverage waste. This initiative came about because the thinking among campus environmentalists was that trays so often leave students susceptible to taking more food than needed, resulting in copious amounts of leftover food that must be thrown out.

After a successful trayless test run around Earth Day, the initiative went into full effect when students returned for the 2008-09 academic year. University officials estimate that a 20 to 30% reduction in solid food waste has resulted and lesser amounts of beverages are being thrown out, especially milk, according to Jim Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president of Student Affairs. With few trays to run through dishwashers, the University is using less water. Interestingly, even though students are welcome to return for unlimited helpings of food at mealtimes, the University has discovered most students are not returning for seconds.

Dina Franceschi, associate professor of economics and environmental steering committee chair, said that eliminating trays is very much in line with Fairfield University's trash reduction efforts across campus in the last few years. "We've seen dramatic differences in the amount of food waste generated in our campus dining facility over the short time of this program."

Dr. Franceschi continued, "In addition, it brings awareness to all of us on campus as to how much food we typically waste and hopefully reminds us of how lucky we are compared to the millions around the globe who go hungry every day."

As a Jesuit institution, Fairfield recognizes its commitment to the world outside its campus and is committed to practicing environmental stewardship. "There is a social justice component to this initiative that is very important to this Jesuit community," Dr. Franceschi said.

Across the country, universities are getting rid of trays in cafeterias, and finding that having no trays reduces the amount of food waste per meal. That's probably because students are more mindful of the food they select due to having just a plate to place it on, and people likely take more food with a tray in hand than they will eat. Other benefits of going trayless include a reduction in the use of electricity, water, and chemicals, such as dishwashing detergent, going down the drain.

The trayless initiative was an initiative of the University's Environmental Steering Committee, composed of eco-minded administration, faculty, staff and students.

Meanwhile, the Barone Campus Center dining hall was renovated just before the start of the new school year. It is now full of comfortable booths, softer lighting, and cozier spaces that have made the large hall a warmer place and more conducive to students visiting with friends at mealtimes.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 17, 2008

Vol. 41, No. 140