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Going trayless study shows student impact

ll trays selectively and randomly available or unavailable during lunch and dinner. The students collected dishes from the students and weighed food waste.

Results for the 360 diners surveyed, showed that going trayless:

  • Led to a 32 percent reduction in food waste.
  • Resulted in a 27 percent reduction in dish use.

Those findings, Kim and his coauthor noted, suggested that "removing trays is a simple way for universities and other dining facilities to reduce their environmental impact and save money."

Getting Student Buy-In

The original 2009 study followed a failed attempt by food service provider Bon Appetit to institute a trayless policy at AU based on industry figures. The students didn't buy it. So the manager overseeing the Terrace Dining Room approached Kim about conducting a student survey.

Teaming up with Darrell Hayes's School of Communication PR class, which developed a campaign to let students know what was going on, the study was conducted, showing a 30 to 40 percent reduction in waste depending on the meal. This time, without the onus of a top-down solution being imposed on them, students embraced the sustainability implications of eliminating so much waste.

So the class assembled a report and presented it to Bon Appetit, AU's Office of Sustainability, and the Office of Finance and Treasurer. Just like that the trays were gone.

"That link between carrying out scientific studies, making policy recommendations, and those recommendations being accepted so quickly was very gratifying to the students," Kim said, adding that never before or since has he seen such quick results from research.

In his current research paper, Kim noted that each day AU's dining halls serve about 3,200 meals, and that removing trays reduced food waste by 12,000 kg (26,455 pounds) per semester.

Perhaps just as important is the message that having such a real-world imp

Contact: Maggie Barrett
American University

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