About Us

Hi! We are students at the University of Edinburgh, and for the past semester, we have been working on a project for Data, Design, and Society, a class in the School of Informatics.

Who We Are

We are a diverse group: two first years, a second year, and a third year (exchange student), studying psychology, geography, anthropology, and informatics. Two of us live in catered facilities in Pollock Halls, and the other two of us live off campus.

Our Project

We decided to address the problem of reducing wastage of food served in the Pollock Halls Dining Hall, in the John McIntyre Conference Center (JMCC). The JMCC provides two meals a day for two thousand students for nine out of twelve months of the year.

Our goal is to reduce food waste--waste from back of house and front of house. After talking with stakeholders (i.e. students who live in Pollock Halls) through surveys and focus groups, we have decided to try and solve this problem by removing trays from the JMCC.

Removing Trays: Real World Context

We did some research, and found a bunch of articles and studies that show the benefits--and a few negatives--that resulted from removing trays in campus dining halls. Our findings are summarised below.

Taking away trays conserves energy by eliminating the need to heat water for tray washing, reduces dependence on fossil fuels, saves one-third to one-half gallon of water per tray, reduces chemicals, detergents and drying agents used to wash trays, decreases discharge into landfills, incinerators and wastewater treatment facilities, and lessens the ecological footprint.1

A university was able to reduce food waste by 378 lbs for the trayless week, which is a reduction of 0.81 oz per patron. Addtionally, employees seemed to prefer the trayless system.2

Another study reports that there was a 32% reduction in food waste and a 27% reduction in dish use when trays were made unavailable at a university dining facility.4

Taking away trays saves on cost of water and energy, saves on cost of detergents and rinse/drying agents, eliminates cost of trays, and reduces food-waste removal costs.1

Schools which go trayless for one day per week reduce waste by an average of 1/3 on those days with some reporting as much as a 50% reduction, and leading to considerable savings. For example, San Diego State University reduced food cost by 4.9% by going totally trayless, and Driscoll University has saved an estimated 70 gallons of water for every day the dining halls do not use trays.3

Taking away trays supports education and awareness of environmental issues, reinforces institutions' sustainability initiatives, encourages students to participate in a "green" initiative that has both a personal and community impact, and reinforces sustainability awareness on a daily basis.1

Brian Wansink (Cornell University) has written extensively about a habit he terms "mindless eating", a concept meaning the bigger your plate, the more you'll eat even if you aren't hungry or know better. Going trayless can be promoted as a health and wellness initiative that will encourage students to take smaller portions.3

One study found that a concern could be increased breakage of dishware and the increased need to wipe down tables.2

Student complaints on the Reddit thread included: having to make multiple trips to get enough food, the conveyer belt for tray disposal was awkward to use with plates, the costs saved from getting rid of trays did not translate into a cheaper meal plan, it is a lot easier to spill food, and there are other ways to be green and make the food waste better, which would result in less waste.5

Our sources are:

  1. The Business and Cultural Acceptance Case for Trayless Dining
    • A survey by ARAMARK of 25 institutions which measured the impact of trayless catering reported 25-30% reduction in per-person waste on trayless days.
  2. Impact on Plate Waste of Switching from a Tray to a Trayless Delivery System in a University Dining Hall and Employee Response to the Switch
    • An experiment and a staff focus group at a university which measured the amount of waste collected on a week with trays as opposed to a week without trays.
  3. Dine on Campus
    • An infographic released by Dine On Campus which explains research and benefits surrounding tray removal.
  4. Quantifying the Impact of Going Trayless in a University Dining Hall
    • A study which measured the reduction in food waste and reduction in dish use when trays were made unavailable at a university dining facility.
  5. No trays at Russell Sage Dining Hall, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, NY: Reddit
    • A discussion on Reddit providing counterarguments and complaints about tray removal at RPI.

Have Your Say!

If you live in Pollock Halls, it would be great if you could take part in this 5 minute survey, so we can see what people think about trayless catering.

Julia Joseph: s1582086@sms.ed.ac.uk • Isabelle Introna: s1445804@sms.ed.ac.uk • Helena McElroy: s1410320@sms.ed.ac.uk • Luke Fletcher: s1556091@sms.ed.ac.uk