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The Urban School Food Alliance is pushing for a greener school lunch

| December 9, 2013

Picture 271 million foam cafeteria plates.

school lunch

Foam trays are not an environmentally-friendly way to serve school lunch. From shannonpatrick17.

I know. It’s difficult to wrap your head around. The New York Times says that’s enough to make a stack of plates several hundred miles tall.

Now picture those plates in a landfill. Scary, no?

A new initiative aims to paint a very different picture. The Miami school district piloted a program that replaces traditional foam cafeteria plates with a compostable version made from sugar cane.

The genius of this approach: the plates can be thrown away along with any remaining food, and both can be composted together without the need for separation and excess processing.

Michael Wines of The New York Times reports that, “if all goes as planned, compostable plates will replace plastic foam lunch trays by September, not just for the 345,000 students in the Miami-Dade county school system, but also for more than 2.6 million others nationwide.

That’s thanks to the Urban School Food Alliance, which targets school districts in six major metropolitan areas (Miami-Dade, Los Angeles, Chicago, Orange County, Dallas, and New York City). The Alliance aims to drive food costs down and effect change by relying on collaborate policy change, strength in numbers and, ultimately, collective purchasing power.

New York City is the next city to run a pilot program for the compostable plates. The pilot is currently in place in four schools, with plans to expand the program to 30 schools this month.

school lunch

The Alliance wants to replace foam containers with compostable ones. From U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Alliance isn’t stopping at replacing cafeteria plates. Alliance members are also committed to providing better food options to students. They’re “already looking at potential suppliers of antibiotic-free chicken,” and say that “possible future initiatives include sustainable tableware, pesticide-free fruit and goods with less packaging waste.”

Recycling has never been more popular, and the Alliance thinks there’s no reason that school lunches can’t be the next recycling frontier. If the members of the Alliance have their way, they’ll enact a full-scale food revolution and become a template for health and sustainability that will permeate throughout the nation.

As exciting as that sounds, it’s easier said than done. There are several barriers, not the least of which is economic. Compostable plates cost nearly four times as much as foam trays, according to the Leslie Fowler, director of nutrition support for the Chicago school system. However, Fowler points out, “Volume is always the game changer. We want to set the tone for the marketplace, rather than having the marketplace tell us what’s available.”

All revolutions have to start somewhere, and 271 million plates certainly sounds like a solid foundation.

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Category: Food

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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