60

Whenever someone in Star Trek creates food or drink in the replicator it is generated in the bowl, plate, or cup. It seems like after a few months they would have piles of used dishes from replicator food while making more for every meal. What do they do with all the dishes?

  • I thought my answer was pretty comprehensive given that you have an on-screen confirmation of Molly disposing of a plate in the replicator. Is there anything you'd want to see before considering an acceptance? – Valorum Sep 10 at 20:00
79

They put them back into the replicator, where the replicator "beams" it away again, i.e. disintegrates it and puts the matter back into storage for future plates.

There is a DS9 episode, where Ben Sisko complains about Jake not putting the dirty dishes back into the replicator.

  • 3
    Which raises the question, whether the replicator could be used as a dangerous weapon. Imagine it disintegrating a limb, or a small animal. – bitmask Oct 23 '13 at 19:11
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    No more dangerous than the holodeck. There are certainly safety protocols built into the device to prevent such weaponization. – Thaddeus Howze Oct 23 '13 at 19:13
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    @Thaddeus - if the replicators use the same safeties as the holodeck, I'd expect people to be losing fingers all the time – HorusKol Oct 23 '13 at 22:45
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    holodecks, transporters and replicators are all related technology - holodecks mostly uses forcefields, though – HorusKol Oct 24 '13 at 0:10
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    @bitmask Even a present day conventional oven or microwave oven can be dangerous and could be turned into a (short range) weapon. – Johnny Oct 24 '13 at 14:26
66

As you can see below, they put their dirty dishes and cups into the replicator which then reverses the replication process (to allow the material to be used later);

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From DS9 : Hard Time

KEIKO : Make sure to put your plate in the replicator.

MOLLY : Okay.

Molly picks up her plate and puts it in the replicator. It disappears...

and DS9 : The Ascent

SISKO : I'm afraid Jake's going through a phase of his own.

(a beat)

I don't know what's so difficult about putting a dirty plate back in the replicator.


There's also a note in the Star Trek TNG: Technical Manual that some replicated materials (water and clothing) are recovered through mechanical and chemical means whereas food is most often returned to the feedstock pile due to limits on resupplies while in space:

Material that cannot be directly recycled by mechanical or chemical means is stored for matter synthesis recycling. This is accomplished by molecular matrix replicators that actually dematerialize the waste materials and rematerialize them in the form of desired objects or materials stored in computer memory. While this process provides an enormous variety of useful items, it is very energy intensive and many everyday consumables (such as water and clothing) are recycled by less energy intensive mechanical or chemical means. Certain types of consumables (such as foodstuffs) are routinely recycled using matter replication because this results in a considerable savings of stored raw material

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    Interesting. Is this what happens when they use the toilet too? – zipquincy Aug 1 '14 at 21:20
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    @zipquincy - Actually no. The TNG manual says that they can theoretically use "osmotic and electrolytic fractioning" to reclaim foodstock from wastewater but that they generally just dispose of human waste at the nearest Starbase. Obviously this would be different on a long voyage. – Valorum Aug 1 '14 at 21:53
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    That looks really dangerous: what if you press the button before taking your hand out? Does it get disintegrated? It should have a door like a microwave oven. It's health and safety not gone mad. – Max Williams Aug 12 '14 at 11:23
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    @MaxWilliams - I'm assuming that like most things in Star Trek, there's oodles of AI working behind the scenes to ensure you don't get zapped by the appliances. – Valorum Aug 12 '14 at 11:28
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    Yes, i guess you're right. Thought it would be fun to see a scene where gangsters jam someone's head in the replicator till they tell them where da money is. – Max Williams Aug 12 '14 at 11:45
18

If you watch carefully, in some episodes they put these items back into the replicator where they are then broken back down into energy and re-absorbed. This is, after all, just a branch of the transporter technology.

  • 8
    Who is first isn't important. Who is best, is. Improve your answer and you'll get accepted over Till's answer. – DampeS8N Oct 23 '13 at 19:39
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    @DampeS8N: Except that we all know that's not true at all. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 23 '13 at 22:53
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft Depends on who the question asker is - and that meta question is about upvotes anyway, not accepted answer – Izkata Oct 23 '13 at 23:13

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