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BarnacleBill's avatar

Reducing waste generated by school lunches?

Asked by BarnacleBill (16040 points ) April 25th, 2011

In an effort to save costs and reduce the number of employees many school systems have fired their lunchroom dishwashers, sold off the equipment, and are serving lunches on styrofoam trays that cost about 11 cents each. The New York City school system alone dumps 850,000 pieces of non-biodegradable styrofoam into landfills or the ocean each day that school is in session. Multiply that by all the school systems in the US using styrofoam, and that’s a whole lot of non-biodegradable waste.
Added to that, the manufacturing of styrofoam trays requires crude oil as an ingredient of the styrofoam.

If you can’t rehire dishwashers, buy washable trays and dishwashing equipment, what can you do? For many children who eat lunch at school, this is the only food they get to eat all day.

Has anyone’s school system found an affordable alternative to styrofoam?

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8 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

In San Francisco, styrofoam in take out is illegal, and all of the food containers are compostable. It’s not expensive, and sure cuts the trash level.

tedd's avatar

There are paper alternatives (like paper plate type stuff).

It still needs to be thrown out, but its way more biodegradable.

Styrofoam can be recycled as an alternative as well.

blueiiznh's avatar

The Health Board does require many things that create these choices for school boards.
One thing I have seen is lunches being made offsite and brought in.
Recycled paper product is the alternative they use or washables that they ship back to this offsite localtion.

downtide's avatar

I used to work in a school kitchen (don’t laugh, it was actually great fun) and occasionally there would be problems with the water supply. When that happened we used paper plates. They can be recycled instead of going to landfill.

Vane's avatar

As this case, a lot of things that schools implements to ‘save’ are not the most sustainable option.
From a sustainable point of view, perhaps the best option is between recycled paper plates and traditional plates washed by washing machines. The second one if we considered the Life Cycle Assessment of both.
My research group is working on a model to measure, from a quantitative way, most relevant aspects of sustainable development at schools and universities. Food is one of them, without considering infrastructure needed to prepare and serve it. If we take into account plates and cutlery, without doubt is an important aspect to considered, small changes can make a big difference.

BarnacleBil, this is a great question and, for me, an interesting debate.

Kardamom's avatar

Here’s a page that shows a whole bunch of different bio-degradable disposable lunch dishes. The trick would be to make the non-biodegradeable dishes un-acceptable (either by law or by education) and then have some type of incentives for the companies that manufacture these “green” dishes so that they could produce them in ways that are also green and cost effective.

Another alternative, that could be used in addition to the bio-degradeable dishes is to make sure that each child is equipped (subsidized or otherwise) with a lunch box and a set of dishes that he/she would be responsible for taking home each day, washing with their own families dishes, then bringing back to school each day. The kids who can’t afford to bring their own lunches, would just bring the dishes in the lunch box (a plate, a bowl and cutlery) and the food would be served cafeteria style just like it is now.

sakura's avatar

china plates
This is an ineresting article, it doesn’t solve your problem but it makes you think about how we are representing food to our school children

Vane's avatar

From an environmental point of view, if US families hasn’t got washing machines, making children carry with their own dishes is not the best option. Although it’s a significant help for schools economy that may solve the problem momentarily.

The problem is, as always, the balance between the three legs of sustainability: economy (the cost of an employee, water, machines, etc.), social (the employee it self, the social environment at the school, food needs of children, etc.) and environment (non renewable resources for materials, water, detergents, etc.) ... and, in a way, our society, because of needs, always give more significance to economy, instead of having an equilibrium.

BarnacleBill, your problem is economical, no sustainable options can be taken when money is the problem. You can propose some alternatives as recycled materials for dishes, but if you can’t demonstrate an economical benefit, it’ll be difficult to have support. Perhaps Kardamom alternative is the best, for now.

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