Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Christopher L Wojick


Universities in the United States are applying more sustainable approaches to their dining service operations. "The increase in social consciousness and environmental stewardship on college campuses has spurred an array of new and innovative sustainability programs"(ARAMARK Higher Education 2008). University residence dining is typically cafeteria style, with students using trays to carry food. Studies report that food served without trays substantially reduces food waste and water and electrical consumption associated with washing trays. Commonly, these reported results are estimates and not measurements taken under actual operating conditions.

This study utilizes measurements recorded under actual dining service conditions in student residence halls at Michigan Technological University to develop the following: 1) operational-specific data on the issues and potential savings associated with a conversion to trayless dining and 2) life cycle assessment (LCA) cost and environmental impact analyses comparing dining with and without trays. For the LCA, the entire life cycle of the system is considered, from the manufacturing to the usage and disposal phases.

The study shows that trayless dining reduces food waste because diners carry less food. The total savings for the diner shifts when not using trays for the standard academic year (205 days), with an average number of 700 diners, is 7,032 pounds of food waste from the pre-rinse area (33% reduction) and 3,157 pounds of food waste from the pan washing area (39% reduction). In addition, for each day of the study, the diners consumed more food during the trayless portion of the experiment. One possible explanation for the increased food consumption during this short duration study could be that the diners found it more convenient to eat the extra food on their plate rather than carrying it back for disposal. The trayless dining experiment shows a reduction in dishwasher water, steam, and electrical consumption for each day of the study. The average reduction of dishwasher water, steam, and electrical consumption over the duration of the study were 10.7%, 9.5%, and 6.4% respectively. Trayless dining implementation would result in a decrease of 4,305 gallons of consumption and wastewater discharge, 2.87 mm BTU of steam consumption, and 158 kWh of electrical consumption for the dinner shift over the academic year. Results of the LCA indicate a total savings of $190.4 when trays are not used during the dinner shift. Trayless dining requires zero CO2 eq and cumulative energy demand in the manufacturing stage, reductions of 1005 kg CO2 eq and 861 MJ eq in the usage phase, and reductions of 6458 kg CO2 eq and 1821 MJ eq in the end of the life cycle.