Styrafoam Trays Impact Environment Negatively

Seniors+eat+at+lunchtime+with+styrofoam+lunch+trays%2C+unaware+of+the+path+the+trays+will+take+when+they+are+thrown+away.+--David+Lopez

Seniors eat at lunchtime with styrofoam lunch trays, unaware of the path the trays will take when they are thrown away. --David Lopez

Seniors eat at lunchtime with styrofoam lunch trays, unaware of the path the trays will take when they are thrown away. --David Lopez
Seniors eat at lunchtime with styrofoam lunch trays, unaware of the path the trays will take when they are thrown away. –David Lopez

In cafeterias across the county, students are accustomed to the familiar sight of stacks upon stacks of Styrofoam lunch trays. With more than 1,000 used every week at RHS, where are the trays ending up?

A common belief is that Styrofoam trays are carted off to landfills, where they stay forever since they are not biodegradable. For MCPS, this is untrue. All trays used in the county are sent off to an incinerator with many environmental regulations in place to minimize the amount of air pollution.

Incinerators are mainly used on the east coast, where land is very valuable. “When you get into the middle of the country, that’s when you see more landfills,” said RHS cafeteria manager Alexandra Phillips. “a��The land is less valuable; therefore, it doesn’t justify the cost of having an incinerator and having the expense of running one.”

Incinerators are also used to produce electricity. Despite the benefits, the more environmentally-friendly option would be to recycle the trays, which MCPS does not currently do. However, the art department is planning on taking a creative initative to reuse the trays.

“What we’re going to do is put a box in the cafeteria and ask students to put their Styrofoam trays in there instead of throwing them away,” said art teacher Lisa Ryan. “It’s a good way of recycling and it’s a good way for us to save money.” The trays will be used as paint pallets, which help with gathering supplies.

While there are alternatives to Styrofoam like paper or plastic trays, every form has its setbacks. Paper trays would be excellent since they can be recycled, but one must also consider how the trays are originally produced: by cutting trees. Plastic trays can save energy since they are reused, but they can be wasteful since electricity and water are used to run the dishwasher.

“How much material and oils do you need to use to make Styrofoam and how many trees do you have to use to make a paper tray? I think those are the things that you have to compare rather than a�� where it’s going,” said Phillips.

With the county purchasing millions of Styrofoam trays at three and a half cents apiece, every penny counts. “It’s an economic more than an ecological solution,” said Green Club sponsor and social studies teacher William Ring.

The school system in Portland, Maine spends about 7 cents on each paper tray, compared to 3 cents per Styrofoam tray. With county budgets stretched thin, switching to a more eco-friendly alternative is not usually a priority.

However, the Los Angeles school district saved about $1 million by negotiating with suppliers to officially replace foam trays with paper trays last year. Many student activists have also tried to phase Styrofoam out of their schools, but it is a difficult task.

RHS students can personally reduce the amount of Styrofoam thrown away by using common sense in the lunch line. “If you’re just getting two items a��, then don’t grab a tray,” said Phillips. “The less you can put into the trash can, the better off you are.”