Tips for Schools

Reduce Food Packaging

Switching from EPS Foam containers and plastic utensils to reusable trays, cups, plates, and utensils can make a big difference.


Plastics are Entering the Oceans at an Alarming Rate

A recent scientific study states, “Our estimate of plastic waste entering the ocean is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the reported mass of floating plastic debris in high-concentration ocean gyres and also globally” (Science, 2015 also Ocean Conservancy, 2015).

Debris on Dauphin Island Beach - Photo by Caitlin Wessel

More than 50,000 Foam Cups and Plates Recovered in 2015

In 2015 as part of the International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers recovered over 57,193 plastic cups and plates the majority of which were made from EPS foam (Ocean Conservancy, 2016).

Plastic Foam Does Not Biodegrade

When pieces of plastic foam (such as polystyrene) enter our waterways, wind and waves break them into smaller and smaller pieces until they are almost invisible to the naked eye. These microplastics (any plastic piece less than 5mm in size) can be ingested by a variety of marine life including invertebrates (e.g., oysters, mussels) and fish that feed on plankton and other microparticulates. The plastic can cause direct and indirect damage to these organisms leading to losses in important species in the ecosystem. Also the chemicals from which the plastics are derived can have negative impacts on marine organisms, causing toxicity and disruption to reproduction, which has significant implications for the entire food web (Algalita, 2015).

Photo by Phyrexian - CC BY-SA 3.0

Polystyrene Found in Marine Animal Intestines

Polystyrene foam is often found lodged in the intestines of marine animals causing blockages from eating the wrong thing. This often leads to death. (BBC, 2015)

EPS foam fragments recovered from Dauphin Island. Picture by Caitlin Wessel

Large School Districts are Dumping Polystyrene

School districts across the country are ditching polystyrene tray for a school lunch dish that is made from recycled newsprint and can be turned into compost (Washington Post, 2015)

Photo by Urban School Food Alliance

177 Tons of Styrofoam Waste per Year

Mobile County School System with it’s 59,000 students produce approximately 334,000 pounds of styrofoam waste every year just from styrofoam lunch trays. (assuming .4oz tray weight and 1 tray/student for 180 school days)

Photo by SOSNYC Blog

Things You Can Do

Use Washable Trays

Washable trays, cups, and utensils can save significant money and energy instead of disposable polystyrene foam or single-use plastic.

Divided Six Compartment Meal Tray (12 pack) from Amazon

Switch to Biodegradable Tray

There are many alternatives to polystyrene for food trays. Pick one and incorporate a composting program at your school to cut down on the amount of waste your school creates.

ECO Disposable Food Tray from Green Paper Products

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Portland Reusable Dishware

Reusable Dishware (Why switch?)
from City of Portland's Sustainability at Work website.

Benefits of Reusable Food Ware

The Cost and Environmental Benefits of Using Reusable Food Ware in Schools - A Minnesota case study by MN Pollution Control Agency:
"[For the two schools s]witching from disposable plastic knives forks and spoons to reusable stainless utensils and from Styrofoam bowls to durable reusable plastic bowls resulted in first year cost savings of about $3,000 and on-site waste prevention of almost 6,000 lb (3,000 lb per year per school)".

Food Waste Alliance

Dishes and trays in the school lunchroom:  Should your school choose reusable or disposable dishware? - -
"A study of dishware options in 7 schools in Missouri and Alabama found that using reusable compartment trays consumed the least amount of energy, produced the lowest amount of solid waste, produced the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, and was also the least expensive option."