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Going trayless reduces food waste in dining halls

University Housing has been trying to reduce food waste by donating leftovers and eliminating the use of trays at Pennsylvania Avenue Residence, Lincoln Avenue Residence, Florida Avenue Residence, Busey-Evans and Gregory dining halls.

Five out of seven dining halls on campus throw out an average of around 65 bags of food per day, according to Senior Assistant Director for University Housing, Dawn Aubrey.

Each bag ranges in weight from 15 to 40 lbs, totalling roughly 10,896 lbs. of food thrown out per week. University Housing has been trying to reduce this food waste by donating leftovers and eliminating the use of trays at Pennsylvania Avenue Residence, Lincoln Avenue Residence, Florida Avenue Residence, Busey-Evans and Gregory dining halls.

Figures on the amount of food thrown out at ISR and Peabody dining halls were not available, said Dawn Aubrey, senior assistant director for University Housing.

Miles Pauli, sophomore in ACES, spent two months working in the PAR dining room where he used to spend two days a week washing dishes, serving food, cleaning up after meal hours and witnessing the amount of food thrown away.

“It was insane. I would see whole things of food that (weren’t) even touched,” Pauli said. “I wish that something could be done.”

Something is being done with the leftovers in the dining hall, Aubrey said.

“Leftovers that have been out-for-service, like for example, partially-exposed (items), are discarded. Items that either are full or have not been exposed, meaning multiple people have not had access to them, get donated,” she said. Aubrey added that the remaining unexposed food gets donated to the Salvation Army, Times Center and the Eastern Illinois Food Bank.

Although there are leftovers, the student workers in the dining halls are not allowed to take the extra food home after their shifts.

“The reason that they are not able to take that is because there’s a risk of food-borne illness if it’s not handled properly,” Aubrey said.

Going trayless has reduced a lot of the waste in the dining halls, Aubrey added. Without trays, students will use fewer plates for food and take only what they will finish. PAR was the first dining hall to become trayless and this change reduced food waste by 40 percent.

There has been close to a 55 percent reduction in food waste from students since four more dining hall units stopped using trays, Aubrey said.

Students for Environmental Concerns, a registered student organization, is continuing an initiative to compost the leftovers to further reduce food waste.

Suhail Barot, treasurer for the group and graduate student, said in an e-mail that the composting initiative started last spring, but has been on hold for the winter because of the weather conditions. The group will resume with a program providing food to the dining halls from a student farm unit in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. The farm unit, in turn, will use the compost gathered from the dining halls.

David Schnitzler, sophomore in Business, said he thinks students, not the dining halls, are responsible for wasting food.

“I think the new trayless situation at PAR is a good step,” he said.

“It conserves water, but it’s still a very minor fix to a waste that the dining hall produces. I see every day plates full of food taken, but not eaten. I really think it’s the mindset of the students more than anything. It’s really up to us.”

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