Six largest US school districts ditch polystyrene trays
The Urban School Food Alliance – a coalition of the biggest school districts in the US: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas, and Orlando – recently announced that polystyrene trays in those schools' cafeterias will be replaced with newly designed compostable round plates. The rollout of the new plates has already begun in some schools, starting in May. The districts serve 2.5 million meals each school day, meaning the switch will prevent 225 million polystyrene trays from entering the waste stream every year.
Polystyrene degrades extremely slowly in the natural environment; is widely found littering beaches and urban landscapes; and contains styrene and benzene, known toxic substances and suspected carcinogens.
The need to stop serving food to children on polystyrene trays might seem clear, but it hasn't been easy to achieve. Compostable plates typically cost three times as much as polystyrene trays (12 cents and 4 cents each, respectively), which has made the former cost-prohibitive, given schools' tight meal program budgets. The six districts of the Alliance used their collective purchasing power (more than $550 million in food and supplies annually) to encourage manufacturers to develop a more affordable, environmentally friendly alternative to polystyrene. The new plates, manufactured in Maine by Huhtamaki North America (De Soto, KS), are made from pre-consumer recycled newspaper (recycled clippings left over when newspapers are cut) and are close in cost to the traditional polystyrene trays, at just under 5 cents each.
Environmentalists applauded the move, saying that using compostable plates in place of polystyrene will reduce landfill waste, lessen plastic pollution in waterways, and generate rich compost.
Eric Goldstein (New York, NY), Chairman of the Alliance, says: “While the compostable plates will help teach kids about environmental responsibilities, their use will also be a way for schools to encourage cities to fund and develop better composting facilities. Each school district is working with local municipalities to establish composting systems, and several schools from each district already have or are piloting composting programs.” The Alliance is also working to introduce compostable utensils.