Area schools switch to eco-friendly lunch trays

The Herald Sun - - Front Page - BY T. KE­UNG HUI [email protected]­sob­

Wake County school cafe­te­rias are get­ting greener, with the school dis­trict be­com­ing the lat­est in the U.S. to ditch plas­tic foam trays in fa­vor of more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ones.

All 187Wake County schools are mak­ing the switch this month to molded fiber trays that are made 100 per­cent from re­cy­cled ma­te­rial and are 100 per­cent com­postable. Wake school of­fi­cials say the dis­trict, which serves an av­er­age of 53,600 lunches a day, is scrap­ping poly­styrene trays be­cause they’re made of pe­tro­leum – a non-sus­tain­able and heavy pol­lut­ing re­source.

In ad­di­tion, dis­trict of­fi­cials say the old trays were slow to break down, aren’t biodegrad­able and were hard to re­cy­cle. The poly­styrene trays, known as Sty­ro­foam to most peo­ple, had to be free of food con­tam­i­nants to be re­cy­clable.

“We’re mak­ing the change districtwide be­cause it’s bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment,” said Lisa Luten, a school dis­trict spokes­woman.

Wake’s switch is ex­cit­ing news for Ev­ery Tray Counts, a lo­cal group that’s been en­cour­ag­ing North Carolina schools to aban­don the use of poly­styrene trays. Chapel Hil­lCar­rboro, Durham Pub­lic Schools and Chatham County Schools have al­ready made the switch and Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Schools may too, ac­cord­ing to Sue Scope, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ev­ery Tray Counts.

Scope hopes other North Carolina school dis­tricts will em­u­late Wake.

“I’m hop­ing Wake County is the flag­ship dis­trict, as well as Char­lotte,” Scope said. “Wake County is very sig­nif­i­cant. It’s where the cap­i­tal is. It’s a great dis­trict.”

Poly­styrene is used in many kinds of food-stor­age con­tain­ers. But due to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, cities like New York have banned poly­styrene and some school dis­tricts have stopped us­ing them for cafe­te­ria trays.

Luten said that Wake’s ef­forts to switch to fiber trays had been com­pli­cated by how they’re more ex­pen­sive. School dis­trict child nu­tri­tion pro­grams are sup­posed to be fi­nan­cially self-sup­port­ing.

The new fiber trays cost 6.1 cents each com­pared to 3.5 cents each for the poly­styrene trays. But Luten said Wake was able to af­ford the switch us­ing sav­ings in the dis­trict’s kitchen plas­tics and metal con­tract.

Wake has stopped short of re­quir­ing schools to com­post their trays and food waste.

In con­trast, Chapel Hill-Car­rboro schools says it di­verts about 250,000 pounds of com­postable waste from land­fills each year. Ev­ery Tray Counts started work­ing with Chapel Hill-Car­rboro in 2013.

Scope is hope­ful that other Wake schools will start com­post­ing.

“Us­ing the trays is great, but we have to match it with com­post­ing to get the full ben­e­fit to re­duce land­fill use and to turn all that food into many more ben­e­fits,” she said.

Ev­ery Tray Counts has worked with Kingswood El­e­men­tary in Cary since Au­gust 2017, pay­ing for the first com­postable trays used at the school. Stu­dents serve as helpers each day, sort­ing the com­postable trash, which Scope says teaches them to be good stew­ards of what they’re us­ing and throw­ing away.

“If we just throw all our com­post into the trash that takes up a lot of the Earth and it hurts the Earth’s en­vi­ron­ment,” said Alana An­drady, a Kingswood stu­dent.

The com­post is used at Kingswood to plant and and grow food in the school’s gar­den.

“It’s kind of amaz­ing to think that old wasted food can be made into some­thing beau­ti­ful, into new foods like toma­toes,” said Fabian Avel­laneda Mendible, a Kingswood stu­dent.

PHO­TOS BY CASEY TOTH [email protected]­sob­

Ni­co­las Shahin stacks his used fiber lunch tray to later be com­posted at Kingswood El­e­men­tary School. All 187 Wake County schools are mak­ing the switch this month to molded fiber trays that are made 100 per­cent from re­cy­cled ma­te­rial and are 100 per­cent com­postable.

Ni­co­las Shahin holds a fiber lunch tray in the cafe­te­ria at Kingswood El­e­men­tary School, which pi­loted the “Ev­ery Tray Counts” pro­gram.

CASEY TOTH [email protected]­sob­

“Com­post helper” Fabian Avel­laneda Mendible, left, re­moves trash from the com­post bin at Kingswood El­e­men­tary School. The com­post is used in the school’s gar­den.

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