The Urban School Food Alliance has announced that they’re making the switch from styrofoam lunch trays to compostable plates made of recycled newsprint. The Alliance is made up of administrators from some of the biggest school districts in the United States: New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, and Orlando. When the change takes effect, it’ll have no small impact – the schools in Alliance districts serve 2.5 million meals a day.
While those familiar white, polystyrene lunch trays can take hundreds of years to break down in landfills, the new plates break down in only a few weeks in the right composting conditions. As polystyrene disintegrates, it releases pollutants into our air and water supply. Meanwhile, the compostable plates are made of renewable resources, and divert recyclable material from landfills while costing only a ninth of a cent more to produce.
For the program to be completely effective, of course, there must be adequate composting facilities nearby. While New York is on track in its mission to compost school lunch waste, the Miami-Dade district, for example, is still figuring out how to incorporate their new waste stream. But the incentives are clear; composting can save school districts plenty of money. Per ton, sending waste to a landfill costs between $50 and $100; meanwhile, composting only costs $20.I hope schools around the country can learn from these pilot programs in composting, and implement similar measures soon!!