Getting Schooled in the Lunch Room

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

Credit: 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.

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

Related Stories