Six of the nation's largest school districts say they will begin using compostable round plates at cafeterias and eliminating less environmentally friendly polystyrene trays.
The school systems that make up the Urban School Food Alliance--New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orange County, Fla.--serve 2.5 million meals on a typical school day, so using the compostable plates will keep 225 million polystyrene trays out of landfills every year.
"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," says Eric Goldstein, chairman of the alliance and chief executive officer of School Support Services for the New York City Department of Education.
In addition to addressing environmental concerns, food and nutrition directors in the alliance specified that the plates have a round shape instead of the rectangular shape of an institutional lunch tray, so that students could eat school meals off plates, as they do at home.
The compostable round plate is made of molded fiber produced from pre-consumer recycled newsprint. It has five compartments, and the beverage compartment is situated in the middle to balance the weight of a typical meal.
Many U.S. schools use polystyrene trays because they cost less than compostable ones, the alliance says. Polystyrene trays average about 4 cents each compared with 12 cents for compostable trays. The alliance says the cost of compostable plates seemed out of reach until the six districts used their collective purchasing power to come up with compostable round plates at a cost of 4.9 cents a plate.
"Together, we developed a quality sustainable product that will be strategically used in our cafeterias to be ecologically sound and maintain effective business practices," says Penny Parham, administrative director of the Department of Food & Nutrition at Miami-Dade County Public Schools.