By: Lauren Murphy
Every week, Arlington High School alone sends nearly three thousand styrofoam lunch trays to the dump. These trays take 500 years to naturally decompose, and they release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, tarnishing our air quality.
According to the Green Restaurant Association, plastic and styrofoam materials make up 25-30% of the waste found in landfills. Many wonder, why then does AHS, amidst this recent push for a “green community”, continue to dispose of roughly 600 styrofoam trays per day?
“The problem with compostable trays is that you actually have to compost them; you can’t just throw them in the trash,” says Food Service Director Denise Hunt Boucher.
Composting waste requires organization of the school’s trash and specific machines which AHS does not have access to at this time. Boucher continues, “And we don’t have the facilities to do washable trays. There are some school systems that have the reusable ones. They have huge kitchens with the machines that they can wash and sanitize the reusable ones but we don’t.”
It is also a matter of budget. On average, styrofoam trays cost about 3.5 cents each. Switching to a compostable alternative would nearly triple the cost per tray.
Arlington Public Schools has managed to make progress with styrofoam waste within the elementary schools. The Brackett and Pierce schools have developed programs which allow them to replace the styrofoam lunch trays with a compostable substitute. Boucher explains that at Brackett “they actually compost them. We buy the compostable trays for them” .
The Brackett School began a partnership with Whole Foods Arlington in 2013, in which families in the community volunteer to deliver the school’s compostable waste to Whole Foods. From there, Whole Foods delivers the waste to a Bio-Digester in Marlborough, MA.
Still, Boucher remains hopeful. She says, “Obviously, no one wants to throw this much styrofoam away everyday. We know it’s not good.” She says that if a solution were presented that made sense in terms of budget and accessibility, that she would support it completely.