3 November 2004

Trays made of bamboo or sugar cane – Score one for the environment!

Milford / Connecticut – With an eye toward being Earth-friendly, Calf Pen Meadow School is forsaking plastic foam lunch trays and switching to a tray that can be readily recycled or reused: those made of bamboo or sugar cane.

Pupils at the elementary school asked for the change, based on concern for the environment, officials said.

Plastic foam trays, which can be recycled at a cost, take 400 years to degrade, officials said.

Food Services Director Eileen Faustich said that, possibly beginning as soon as next week, the school’s lunch trays will be replaced with bamboo or sugar cane trays. Faustich said she has researched switching trays for some time. Plastic foam trays cost 3 cents each, while paper costs 15 cents, or $7,000 more annually. She said the bamboo trays cost about 10 cents a tray initially, but if the pilot program were successful the cost will be 5 cents a tray if used systemwide.

Faustich said she got the idea for using bamboo or sugar cane trays at a food show she recently attended. She said the trays are biodegradable and have been piloted already in California and New York.

“It’s just a new method (of serving),” Faustich said. “It was wonderful to see the kids conscious of the environment, and I wanted to make a change to support their effort. It’s a right thing to do for the community.”

Calf Pen Principal Delores Hannon said student interest in the issue was sparked by their performance in a school play “Guardians of the Earth,” which centered on youths protecting the planet.

“It was a good project, because it ignited a lot of thinking,” Hannon said. “I was surprised they got so into it. They found out they could actually do something.”

Students researched ways to make the world more environmentally friendly and looked at Environmental Protection Agency studies, she said. Students gave speeches and reports on the research and wrote a letter to Faustich asking if the school could do away with plastic foam trays.

“The kids are very excited, because they became advocates for something,” Hannon said.

Hannon said that, in an effort to find ways plastic foam trays could be used for other purposes, students recently made a boat of the material. Lunch trays were recycled for two weeks and made into a boat dubbed the “SS Lunch Tray.” The craft actually floated, she said.

“The kids found out it takes 400 years for one tray to disintegrate, so they used 400 trays in the boat,” Hannon said.

Faustich said she would receive a sample of the bamboo trays Thursday and hopes to have them at school as soon as possible. The big test will be whether the trays can accommodate the weight of lunch. She said no decision has been made about whether the new trays will be discarded or reused. Plastic foam trays are discarded daily, she said.

Faustich said recycling is very important to her, but it was cost prohibitive to pay a company to haul away the plastic foam trays. She said the district could not use plastic trays, because the schools do not have dishwashers.

Board of Education spokeswoman Kathy Bonetti said administration, staff and students should be commended for ingenuity.

“The students made their point, and I’m pleased to say the Milford school system is right in line with their wishes and we’re working toward a common goal of having a better alternative for their effort,” she said.

Source: New Haven Register, Nov. 02, 2004.

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