By Caity Monroe
The trayless dining program implemented at two dorms this past academic year has made it to the summer showing signs of promise, but uncertainty still lingers about the program’s feasibility and relative effectiveness.
Both Wilbur and Stern dining halls have stopped making trays readily available to diners, but students can still ask for a tray if they want to use one. While many students expressed sympathy for the goals of the program and its logic in the late months of the academic year, the question of its relative usefulness remains unanswered for many students.
For its part, Dining remains fully committed to the program, saying that even though it has no hard data on its effects, it believes the trayless initiative is significantly reducing water use. Mary Lee, student manager at Stern Dining, emphasized how much each tray adds up in a dining hall as large as Stern.
“We serve an average of three meals per day, and each meal has around 800 students,” Lee said. “If 800 students use trays … that takes a lot of water to wash them off.”
“Approximately 30 percent of the food produced for human consumption in the United States is thrown out as waste,” added Eric Montell, executive director of Stanford Dining, in an e-mail to The Daily. “In addition, trayless dining conserves water and energy that would be spent on cleaning trays.”
Unfortunately, because neither Wilbur nor Stern has individual water meters, Montell was unable to provide exact statistics on water saved, though he did cite considerable savings from similar programs at other universities.
“We have heard from other universities that a trayless program can save as much as 1/3 of a gallon to wash,” he said.
Siddhartha Oza ’11, who was behind the implementation of the trayless campaign, also said he is happy with the program so far.
“Although I can’t speak to any actual statistics, the trayless initiative appears to be running very well,” he said.
Montell also said that the trayless program fit with the broader environmental values that have motivated the “Love Food, Hate Waste” campaign in the dining halls.
During the school year, the presence of trays in the Wilbur and Stern dining areas diminished, although they did not disappear entirely, as students begin to respond to efforts discouraging the use of trays.
“I don’t need one,“ said Bailey Farrell ’13. “And at the beginning of the year, I read somewhere that each tray takes something like half a gallon of water to wash each time. It also makes me waste less food because I don’t take as much food.”
Farrell was one of five freshmen sitting at her table in Wilbur dining in late May, and all five agreed that the tray was unnecessary given the amount of food and number of plates they usually brought back to the table.
Tatum Sohlberg ’13 said that the efforts to promote more environmentally friendly dining habits have played a role in her choice to “go trayless.”
“I don’t want to be wasteful unnecessarily,” Sohlberg said.
Yet the trayless campaign only discourages — rather than prohibits — tray usage, and many students still choose to request one. This exception has ensured that the black plastic trays have maintained a noticeable, yet diminished presence in the dining halls. And while some students find them unnecessary, others claim the tray helps juggle otherwise cumbersome multi-plate meals.
“I think it’s a compelling reason, I just don’t think it’s always feasible,” said Anne Warner ’12.
That feasibility has been further challenged this summer, with a host of non-Stanford students flooding into the dining halls. The tenuous balance between convenience and conservation seems to have tipped toward the former for the summer months, as diners can now find trays available — without requesting them — at some meals at Stern.
“As we have several non-Stanford conferences and many international students this year — a different demographic from that during the academic year — the demand for trays has been quite high,” Montell said. “In the interest of providing great customer service in preventing a backup at the cashier, we have placed trays in the dining hall for some meals.”
Many of these students bring with them different perspectives on this particular method of sustainability, as well as differences in environmental efforts as a whole.
“Here, you divide between landfill and compost,” said visiting student Santiago Velasco. “Back in Mexico we don’t do that. The campaign about going trayless is really useful.”
“But,” he said as he motioned to the trays on surrounding tables, “not everyone does it.”
Andres Akle, also from Mexico, was also supportive of the trayless program, though he pointed out that food waste is not as much of a problem at his school back home.
“In my school, we do have trays, we do use them, but the portions are not American portions,” he said. “They’re much smaller … and you’re only served once.”
Other students were less enthusiastic about the trayless campaign and more skeptical about its effectiveness given other less-environmentally friendly habits found around campus — and the country.
“I think it’s ridiculous because here you are, making people feel guilty because you’re using trays … and at the same time every night at midnight you’ve got water spraying everywhere on the lawn,” said Julien Nakache, who is visiting from France.
“And buses go every one minute with no one on them,” he added.
Over time, however, the mixed range of impressions at the novelty of trayless dining may become a more familiar part of campus life, as Stern Dining Ambassador Alex Li ’13 hopes. He said that the effectiveness of the trayless campaign would likely grow as new students come in and older students start to adapt.
“Freshmen who came in didn’t know that there were trays, so they don’t say anything … but it’s the upperclassmen when they come who always wonder, ‘Where are the trays?’”