Beginning this September, Portland schools are making lunch a little more eco-conscious by getting rid of its polystyrene lunch trays. After the success of district-wide recycling programs in Portland schools saved about $50,000 in waste fees, Superintendent James Morse plans to spend those savings on ongoing waste reduction efforts this fall.
Every year the school system uses 450,000 single-use lunch trays and because of the nature of the material, the trays just end up at the landfill. But students will be starting the 2012-2013 school year with paperboard trays, which are made in state, and eventually transitioning to reusable trays.
Portland’s school districts have so far diverted 30 tons of food waste in the last school year alone and the ban on foam trays will be will make the schools even greener.
Supporter of the polystyrene lunch tray ban and parent, Martha Sheils, was one of the first people to speak with the superintendent about starting a recycling program in the schools and feels that using sustainable products and disposing of waste wisely can have a great positive impact on the next generation:
This change is a change of habit for life. From pre-kindergarteners…to 12th graders, as they go through the system it will be easy. They won’t have to think about what’s compost, what’s recyclable and what’s truly trash.
The move by the school district may even lead to city-wide action to get rid of the non-biodegradable material. The Portland city council has been attempting to draft a ban on foam containers for some time but the widespread use of the foam in cafeterias made a phase out difficult.
The Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee of the city council are currently working on drafting the ordinance for a city-wide phase out of the material. Polystyrene containers can take more than 500 years to decompose and make up a large component of marine debris. The EPA estimates that every year Americans throw away 25 billion plastic foam cups, cups that either end up in the landfill or as litter.