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Be-tray-al! School nixes Styrofoam carriers in lunchroom

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A Windsor Terrace’s elementary school became the first in the city this week to abandon environmentally hated Styrofoam trays in favor of a newfangled pressed sugar cane version — but the school is doing it on its own, as the Department of Education refused to swallow the additional costs associated with going “green.”

In the latest salvo in Councilman Bill DeBlasio’s ongoing food fight against the city over cafeteria waste, PS 154 on 11th Avenue became the first city school to abandon cheap but environmentally taboo Styrofoam and replace it with a biodegradable version.

DeBlasio (D–Park Slope), who has authored bills to ban Styrofoam from all city agencies, applauded the school’s “bold step,” which was underwritten by Brooklyn Industries and the Juice Box, a wine store.

“I hope this is the first step towards changing this policy citywide,” DeBlasio said over the lunchroom din on Tuesday.

DeBlasio, parents and students have blamed the school system for not finding a green alternative to the 850,000 Styrofoam trays that get thrown away each day — trays that sit in landfills for up to 10,000 years before breaking down. The kids agreed with the towering councilman — and were happy to take questions from the press.

“Styrofoam should be banned from all schools because if we keep throwing it away the Earth will turn into a giant landfill and be disgusting,” said Sophia Thompson, a fourth grader.

That shouldn’t be a problem with the trays made from a sugar cane fiber known as bagasse, left over from the juicing process.

After landing in a compost pile or landfill, the bagasse trays break down within 45 days. (They break down a lot quicker when forced to carry the wettest, heaviest foods that lunch ladies can dole out, as our investigation revealed.)

The Department of Education acknowledges the environmental dilemma, but said it won’t ban Styrofoam — a Dow Chemicals brand name for a lightweight polystyrene made from toxic substances benzene, styrene and ethylene — because it’s almost 33 percent cheaper than the fibrous sugar cane alternative.

“The cost is the obstacle,” said agency spokesperson Marge Feinberg.

Of course, if the city insists on sticking with Styrofoam, there is also a better, more cost-effective way of dealing with the hundred-million-plus trays used every year.

According to a New Jersey recycling company RecycleTech, those trays can be cleaned, compressed into denser material and reincarnated into new lunch trays — using the companies machines, of course.

Whatever solution the city chooses, parents say it will be better than the contradictory messages children receive between the classroom, where conservation is taught, and the lunchroom, where trash is produced.

The schools should be “helping our children feel like the world is going to be a good place when they grow up,” said PS 154’s Parent Teacher Association co-president, Eva Lewendowski.

For now, that lesson will have to wait: The school is currently figuring out how to dispose of the dozens of boxes of unused Styrofoam trays stacked up in its cafeteria. Given the circumstances, throwing them out does not appear to be an option.

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Reader Feedback

Claudia Friedetzky from Windsor Terrace says:
While I applaud any initiative that reduces waste and energy consumption, I unfortunately have got concerns about this project. Based on my research, it is much, much more energy-efficient and produces less waste to use re-usable products rather than disposable or recycled materials. The energy consumption involved in making non-reusable trays available is massive, from production, packaging, transportation, and disposing the trays, whether bio-degradable or not.

Why not purchase re-usable trays made from recycled materials, get dishwashers into school, and hire someone to run them?

For the first 23 years of my life, I never once used a paper or Styrofoam plate or cup or plastic cutlery. I attended schools and universities where food was served on china, and the silver wear was not made of plastic. I went to restaurants, cafes, attended parties, school and office functions without disposable dishes. I was horrified at the nonchalance with which people use paper and plastic products in the US when I first arrived. I tried to imagine the mountains of trash generated every day, across the US, let alone the resources wasted.

Life without disposables is possible, simple, cost-efficient and environmentally most friendly.

Let's show our kids that we don't just use something once and then throw it out. Let's teach them about the environmental cost involved in producing and using disposables.

Claudia Friedetzky
Parents for Climate Protection
April 1, 2008, 1:31 pm
Dogzilla says:
recycling/reusing styrofoam: NOT POSSIBLE. my mom worked at Whole Foods once and learned there that every time styrofoam is washed, it emits chemicals and can harm the health of children and adults. the chemicals in it are still transferred to the food, even if it hasn't been washed. styrofoam must be banned!!!
Sept. 19, 2009, 8:46 am
Dogzilla says:
i also suggested having reusable trays at my school, however it was not going to be cheaper than styrofoam, making the change impossible for the time being.
Sept. 19, 2009, 8:47 am
Molly from mt.lebanon says:
Hi my name is molly and i think getting rid of styrofoam is so great and I say good job to that school! Styrofoam is not recyclable and it will stay on the earth forever so great great job!
Oct. 14, 2009, 5:58 pm
Joy from Chase says:
im 10 years old and i think this is a great way to save the earth guys keep pushing through because soon youll make a change all over the WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!( =
Jan. 20, 2010, 6:18 pm
hi hi hi from united states says:
i am going to try to ban the plates from my school i am only 11 turning 12 but i hope that will make a difference i have already got to try to get a talent show but i really want this very very bad and good job to anyone who is saying NO to styrofoam!!!!=]=]=]=]=]=]=]=]=]
Sept. 9, 2010, 4:28 pm

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