Getting Schooled in the Lunch Room

The cafeteria tray gets a sustainable (and homey) makeover.

Photo: Urban Food Alliance

The humble cafeteria tray brings nourishment to hungry little bodies across the nation. But even as the food it holds becomes greener—in both senses of the word—these often-disposable rectangles remain wasteful (and Styrofoam doesn’t even make a good sled!). So this month the Urban School Food Alliance, a collaboration of the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas, and Orlando school districts, is parting ways with polystyrene lunch trays. Compostable plates, with a rounded shape to mimic a home meal rather than an institutional one, will take their place. The move will keep 225 million trays out of the landfill each year. That’s some good math.

Here’s more—the purchasing power of these large school districts is already making nutritious lunches more affordable. Now, it’s doing the same for compostable trays. Typically 12 cents a pop, the Alliance’s round version is 4.9 cents. Throwaway trays sell for 4 cents (pollution costs not included).

Soon, 2.9 million students will eat antibiotic-free chicken (which the Alliance switched to in December) off of plates made in the States from recycled newsprint. Next year, compostable cutlery will have its first day of school, too. That’s worth raising a carton of milk to.


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