Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice

Stop using styrofoam lunch trays in all USA schools!

School districts all across the USA are serving school food on Styrofoam (also known as polystyrene) lunch trays. These trays, composed of the chemicals styrene and benzene, are used for about 30 minutes only, then most commonly incinerated or transported to landfills where they take up an enormous amount of space. In New York City alone, 850,000 Styrofoam trays are used per day, which are exported to out of state to landfills and incinerators (except for Tuesdays- see EPA Eco Student blog https://blog.epa.gov/students/2012/02/trayless-tuesdays-in-nyc-schools-inspired-by-a-7-year-old/).

It is time for the USDA National School Lunch Program to address this issue and support the nationwide procurement of affordable alternatives, such as recyclable, compostable, and reusable school lunch trays. All children deserve to eat a healthy school meal on a healthy, non-polluting surface.

see more at www.cafeteriaculture.org


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Similar Ideas [ 4 ]


  1. The idea was posted


  1. Comment
    Drew Pilant

    We are teaching the children that a throw away, disposable society is OK, that it is the norm. Do we want the children to grow up to lead a culture of sustainability, or perpetuate the culture of waste?

  2. Comment

    The hospital where I work has started using compostable paper products to serve food in the cafeteria. A great start to being green, but I like the idea of bringing my own "lunch kit" for servers to fill even better.

  3. Comment

    Also, we could go back to using reusable utensils as well. I remember when we had metal forks and spoons. Then, along came the plastic ones kids use today. Not only did this show children that it's okay to just throw stuff away, I'm sure it costed the schools money in the long run having to continuously buy new utensils.

  4. Comment
    Duncan Adams

    Next year, the whole school district will be using compostable trays, utensils, and napkins.

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment
      Community Member

      Where do you live and How did that come to be? Thank you

  5. Comment

    I work at EPA in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, and part of our mission is to promote resource conservation and recycling.

    There are many ways to reduce waste during lunch at school, and using reusable lunch trays instead of single-use disposable lunch trays is one of them. Another option would be to provide trays that are made of recyclable material, so that the tray can be recycled if not reused. Students can also consider packing a waste-free lunch http://www.epa.gov/osw/education/lunch.htm and composting leftover food to reduce waste in general. For some colleges and universities, providing a dining tray encourages students to take as much food as they can carry, which can lead to excess food that usually gets thrown out when students can't finish their meals. Holding a "No Tray Day" http://www.epa.gov/ecoambassadors/oncampus/pdf/FoodRecoveryChallengeNoTray.pdf much like the "Trayless Tuesdays" in New York City school districts, can also help cut down on food going to waste.

  6. Comment
    Anna K

    I visited my daughter's lunchtime at school today, and was totally shocked to find them eating on both disposable, plastic silverware and styrofoam, plastic trays. What happened to reusable silverware, trays, or at least something that disintigrates? I had no idea this was widespread. How long has this been going on for?

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment
      Community Member

      Have you acted on it? And if so What steps did you take? I'm agreed 100% I felt the same way after eating lunch with my son a couple years ago, it literally made me sick, all the effort I go through to recycle..And everyone else for that matter,.. seemed to be put on an awful small scale seeing the mass amounts of waste.. I want to do something.. now.. if you have, or know a way to make the progression more substantial in the effort, I'm open to trying, I've felt like everyone I talk to makes it seem like it's a lost cause, Why, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Comment
    dl ( Idea Submitter )

    Anna, I too was shocked when I first visited my daughter's cafeteria and was inspired to bring NYC’s communities and government together to make change! I encourage you to do the same in your community. It is time for a nationwide ban on styrofoam lunch trays.

    Styrofoam (or polystyrene) lunch trays were introduced to US school cafeterias about 20 years ago. In the early 1990's, school food services were looking for ways to save money on both labor and machine repair costs. There was less general knowledge of the environmental and health implications surrounding the use of styrofoam.

    Styrofoam trays are "cheap," costing between 3 to 4 cents per tray, while most alternatives, such compostables or recyclables, are at least twice that price (for more details see: http://www.cafeteriaculture.org/faqs.html)

    In NYC, the Department of Education is not held accountable for school garbage disposal costs, which have doubled since the closure of the last local landfill, Freshkills in Staten Island. Citywide budgets should reflect the cost of styrofoam tray DISPOSAL along with the cost of purchase. We are in fact paying much more than just 3 - 4 cents per tray! And, there are all the additional unknown, long-term future costs of landfilling and incinerating NYC's 860,000 styrofoam trays and sporks per day.

    So, who is really responsible for the full life cycle environmental and health impacts of long-term use of non-recyclable polystyrene and plastic sporks, products that are purchased and disposed of by so many school districts nation wide?

    We are teaching millions of students all over the US that it is OK to use and dispose of single-use, toxic and polluting non-recyclable trays and sporks, a message that is completely inconsistent with what is taught in most classrooms, to reduce, reuse, and recycle!

    LA United School District recently banned the use of styrofoam trays in all schools! Now it is time for NYC, the largest school district n the US, to follow suit. Via sheer scale and purchasing power, NYC can influence waste reduction trends in the manufacturing and government sectors, regionally and nationally, while also shifting the habits of millions to reduce the use of disposables and excess food packaging.

    Our organization, Cafeteria Culture, founded in 2009 as Styrofoam Out of Schools, is working to achieve zero-waste school cafeterias by bringing together community, manufacturers and government agencies to find healthy, long term alternative solutions. We are also developing both in-cafeteria and in-class interdisciplinary curriculum to support this zero waste goal, empowering students with the responsibility of overseeing waste sorting in their own cafeterias and inspiring their school communities to make change!

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment
      Community Member

      So What is the best alternative? Why can't there be a dish washing machine? Or do you recommend a biodegradable.. I know it's hard to turn apples into oranges.. Well. In the minds of the trash heaping beholders..but How should I campaign this to sound doable in a government school mentality? Thank you

  8. Comment
    Jacquelyn Richardson

    America needs to stop using band aids. Have we not learned that spending on the cheapest product now only leads to debt created by the bigger problems later?

  9. Comment

    The carting firm in Willimantic CT (Willimantic Waste Paper Inc.) claims that all plastic is recyclable including styrofoam. So find out who carts your school system's waste and ask the carter firm if and if so how they recycle whatever your school serves lunch on. The problem might be solved already.

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