A Tray a Day Keeps the Food Waste Away

Remember all the hours you spent in the dining halls stacking plates of food and numerous cups filled with various drinks onto your tray? Remember when you would get up to leave and the tray line would be filled with half eaten plates of food and full cups of smoothies that hadn’t been touched? Not anymore.

In 2015, UGA Food Services took a big step in reducing the amount of waste the dining halls produced by implementing tray-less dining in all five dining halls. There was a two week testing period in which Food Services teamed up with the Office of Sustainability to see if such measures would be effective.

Snelling dining commons was chosen, and during the first week of testing, trays were provided as normal. The plate waste coming through the tray return was measured in weight and volume. The water meter was also measured to see how much water was used cleaning the trays. During the second week, trays were removed and the same measurements were acquired.

Within one week, the results showed a 26.7 percent reduction in plate waste and a 16.4 percent reduction in water usage. The answer was simple, with the amount of water and waste conservation that was seen, UGA Food Services decided to rid the dining halls of trays.

UGA has 9.5 million pounds of waste on a yearly average. By getting rid of trays in dining halls, UGA is cutting 2.5 million pounds off that average number in terms of food waste.

“The pile of waste UGA has at the end of each year could fill the entire student learning center,” said Kevin Kirsche, UGA’s director of sustainability.

The Sustainability Office is involved in projects all over campus, such as water conservation and electric bus transportation, that help enhance the conservation of the environment not only on campus, but in the Athens community. With dining halls and food services being one of their top priorities, the Office of Sustainability helped push the no tray agenda in order to reduce the amount of wasted food seen yearly in UGA dining commons.

But that is not all UGA Food Services is doing for waste management. The University has recently reached its goal of eliminating all items that can’t be composted from its dining halls. Plastic straws and individual condiment packets were switched to more sustainable options like bio-degradable paper straws and reusable bulk condiment stations.

UGA also believes in re-usability and recycling. Now 100 percent of food waste in the dining halls is being sent to the Bioconversion center where it is composted and reused on campus. You’ve probably seen the multitude of bins for recycling cardboard, newspapers, plastic and aluminum spread throughout the campus.


Another major conservation effort was napkin management. Napkins used to be placed in silverware stations, but now they are placed on tables. Since starting this practice napkin consumption has been reduced by an estimated 50 percent.

Kirsche says every since the founding of the Office of Sustainability on UGA’s campus in 2010, a variety of different efforts have been made to make the university healthier, greener, and more environmentally friendly.  He says the tray-less dining halls are just another step in that process.


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