Trash the Trays

HUDS’ new trayless dining initiative rightly prioritizes environmental living

Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) announced last week that it will begin a trayless dining initiative, which aims to curb food waste and encourage healthy portion selection. The initiative will begin in beta form this semester in Quincy House for the month of February. House residents dining on Thursday night (Quincy’s community dining night) will forgo trays for plates and cutlery only.

The plan was unveiled in a pamphlet for Quincy House residents that featured a list of the top ten reasons to embrace trayless dining. Aside from the usual (and compelling) reasons to eat without a tray, the list featured some reasons of a lighter nature—for instance, reason number eight: “You’ll practice vital waitering skills by learning to balance two drink glasses in one hand.”

While we are skeptical of trayless dining as a “great conversation starter” for any undergrad’s next date (the ninth reason listed in the pamphlet), we fully support this initiative. The experiment in eating is only one of a slate of green initiatives HUDS has undertaken in recent months, and it marks a commitment to environmental and sustainable living that is realistic in its expectations of community members. Asking Harvard undergraduates to substantially reform their diets and food habits, for instance, would be a futile task, but asking them simply to forgo a tray is hardly a giant personal sacrifice.

Such a simple modification of dining hall policy could have numerous benefits for both the environment and for students themselves. Not only does trayless dining eliminate greenhouse gases by reducing energy expenditure during tray-washing, but it is also likely to reduce the number of dishes HUDS washes daily, because students will refrain from taking more dishes than they need.

This, in turn, could eliminate food-waste (a perennial problem for HUDS), because students are less likely to pile up food they can’t carry to their tables, and therefore are likely to only take what they can eat. Finally, this reduction in consumption could have an effect on individual student health: Not only will students be forced to stand up and walk to the kitchen when they’re still hungry, but they’re likely to avoid the excessive eating that trays so frequently encourage.

Essentially, the trayless dining initiative presents a win-win situation for HUDS and the Harvard community at large. We hope that Harvard continues to rally for everyday reforms like this and others it has undertaken recently—water-reducing showerheads, efficient toilets, and others. Though seemingly minor, these changes can have a profound impact on our environment.