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Tray Recycling Helps School District Save Money and Teach a Lesson

Using Styrofoam trays and recycling them with the help of Dart Container Corp. allows Culver City schools to keep costs down and keep the items out of a landfill.

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.”

Sherri Akers June 04, 2011 at 01:18 PM
Wow - I hope they will reconsider - I sure wouldn't want my kids eating off what "US health officials soon may declare a likely carcinogen". If we're not concerned about the kids, what about the workers? "Increased risks for lymphohematopoietic cancers (leukaemia or lymphoma or all) were found among styrene-exposed workers". All of this is straight from the US Dept of Health - http://www.icis.com/Articles/2011/05/19/9461215/insight-us-poised-to-label-styrene-as-a-likely-carcinogen.html So if it is convenient to ignore the statistics about how low the recycling rate really is with Styrofoam, maybe we should consider the health impact? What is wrong with a reusable tray that gets rinsed off - it worked fine when we all went to school.
Corky Jackson June 06, 2011 at 05:29 PM
This is one of the more ridiculous articles I have read, but typical of the obfuscation that comes out of the petro-chemical industry. If the Culver City School district was truly interested in teaching its kids about sustainability, it would be using washable and reusable trays, not single-use trays made from non-renewable resources. As I understand it, foam recyclers do NOT accept foam with food waste on it, so any of those trays with food waste are likely being thrown away. What is most upsetting about this article is that, on a daily basis, the school children of Culver City are being exposed to styrene, an essential component of Styrofoam, which the National Toxicology Program is prepared to label a "likely human carcinogen." See this story here for more details: http://tinyurl.com/StyreneCarcinogen
Dianna Cohen June 08, 2011 at 03:41 AM
This allows them to poison all the kids with neurotoxins at the same time. yum yum!
Andy Shrader June 11, 2011 at 12:51 AM
Now it's official: Polystyrene has been labeled a "possible carcinogen." "Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said that he would advise people — particularly pregnant women and small children — to avoid using polystyrene containers and other products that use styrene." http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/health/11cancer.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss Let's get those trays away from our kids immediately.
Paul Walsleben August 26, 2011 at 01:56 PM
Having looked at what the situation is I can understand while this would be considered a small victory - at least CCUSD is conscious of the situation and doing something. The first thing I hear from people is the same as Sherri Akers said - How come we can't go back to reusable trays? When you consider that you also have to wash them at a certain temperature, and use an antibacterial soap, and dry all of them, then store them ... you can see how that adds up. And all that water. Here's a link to my favorite thing ever: the company that makes these awesome boxes for hot lunches at Whole Foods. Their stated goal is "We try to be price neutral with plastic and polystyrene products. " The containers are made from bulrush and cornstarch, and they hold heat and liquid fantastically well. Plus they break down in a compost heap in a little over a week. Check it out - it would be nice to present this as an option if the cost were right for CCUSD. The other issue is, collecting all those trays to go to that spiffy recycling center - that's gas and smog, ahem. It's hard to see the upside there, but again, I'd rather have the District trying something, than not trying at all. http://www.begreenpackaging.com/
Sherri Akers August 27, 2011 at 03:51 PM
I LOVE the containers that Paul refers to and would be thrilled if schools would implement composting to support their use!
Paul Walsleben August 31, 2011 at 01:29 PM
... and then there's this. The situation may present a real opportunity for prepared parents! http://www.ksee24.com/news/local/California-Aims-to-Become-First-State-Banning-Styrofoam-Containers-128603273.html
Sherri Akers September 04, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Paul - Local Assemblymember Holly Mitchell is intending to vote AGAINST the state wide ban on Styrofoam food containers. If you share our feeling that SB-568 is vital to Ballona Creek and to our oceans, please call Assemblymember Mitchell and let her know: Tel: (916) 319-2047. http://www.culvercitynews.org/latest-news/environmental-activists-dismayed-by-assemblywoman/

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