PhotoSchools churn out educated citizens (we hope) but they also churn out a lot of waste, including polystyrene food containers from the cafeteria that clutter up landfills.

But now a coalition of urban school districts is taking steps to dump the polystyrene -- or Styrofoam, which is the best-known brand of polystyrene -- replacing it with disposable plates made of compostable material. 

“This news is a game changer,” said Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of School Support Services for the New York City Department of Education. “As leaders in school meals, we’re proud to create a product that students will not only find easy to use, but one that also protects the environment for many years to come.”

The six large school districts that make up the Urban School Food Alliance say they will remove 225 million polystyrene trays a year from landfills by creating the new compostable round plate for cafeterias.

The alliance is made up of school disrticts including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando.

Why can't it be recycled?

Technically, polystyrene can be recycled but as the American Chemical Society explains in this video, processing it is just too expensive.

Smarter choice

Food and nutrition directors in the aliance specified the round shape to allow students to eat their food off plates like they do at home, replacing the institutional rectangular lunch tray.

The districts in the alliance collectively procure more than $550 million in food and supplies annually to serve more than 2.9 million students enrolled in their schools.

“These cities are teaching kids that sustainability and smarter choices can be integrated into every part of your daily life – even your lunch,” said Mark Izeman, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit partner of the alliance. “Shifting from polystyrene trays to compostable plates will allow these cities to dramatically slash waste sent to landfills, reduce plastics pollution in our communities and oceans, and create valuable compost that can be re-used on our farms. We are proud to work with a group of school systems dedicated to driving landmark changes in the health and sustainability of school food.”

Schools across America use polystyrene trays because they cost less than compostable ones. Polystyrene trays average about $0.04 apiece, compared to its compostable counterpart, which averages about $0.12 cents each. Given the extremely tight budgets in school meal programs, affording compostable plates seemed impossible until the Urban School Food Alliance districts used their collective purchasing power to innovate a compostable round plate for schools at an affordable cost of $0.049 each.

The American-made molded fiber compostable round plate is produced from pre-consumer recycled newsprint. It is FDA-approved and manufactured in Maine by Huhtamaki North America.

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