Culver City schools are among those in the Los Angeles area taking part in a lunch tray recycling movement helmed by Dart Container Corp. The campuses recycle their Styrofoam trays at no extra cost rather than throwing them out and having them accumulate in landfills. The has been using the program for the last two years, recycling upward of 4,000 trays per month, said Julie Garcia, director of .
During a in which money for schools has been on a downward spiral, using Styrofoam versus a more expensive alternative allows the district to save as much as $20,000 on lunch tray expenditures per year. Although the CCUSD has always used the Styrofoam option, Garcia estimated that if the school district were to invest in other types of trays, it would be spending at least $40,000 a year on the supply.
Sustainability advocates may sneer at the Styrofoam choice, pointing out that the material is not biodegradable and poses other concerns, but such trays cost about 3 cents each—less than half of what some alternatives run. Certain other types of trays cost as much as 25 cents each, Garcia said. Recycling allows the district to find a happy medium, she believes.
“It’s a program I will continue,” Garcia said about the Dart option. “I don’t know that there’s any enhancement to it other than to maintain it. If participation increases then yes, we recycle more trays. It all depends on how many kids eat lunch in the cafeteria.”
Culver City School District Superintendent Patricia Jaffe pointed out that not only does the recycling program save money in the time of a budget crisis, but it also promotes environmental awareness among the student population.
“As a district, we are addressing environmental sustainability,” Jaffe said. “We have the Environmental Sustainability Committee that is addressing ways in which to make all of our schools, students and community aware of ways to incorporate environmentally aware habits into the school community.”
School districts in Chula Vista, Santee, Pasadena, Monrovia, Los Alamitos, Ontario-Montclair, El Segundo and Torrance also participate in the program, said Michael Westerfield, corporate director of recycling programs at Dart in Corona. Dart is recycling about 1 million total lunch trays per month across all the districts, he said.
“We think we’ll be able to do significantly more once the word gets out,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for a number of reasons. No. 1, it’s a great opportunity to teach the kids who use these things every day about the environment and about recycling in particular, and the lessons they learn from that applies to all sorts of materials, not just foam. And it helps the schools during a time of budget cuts.”
The popularity of such recycling programs among school districts has been building slowly but surely, he said.
“We opened up our Corona facility in the fall of 2008,” Westerfield said. “The schools have just been coming on board. It seems like every couple months we get more of them now. We haven’t really advertised it so it’s been word of mouth and it’s just caught on.”