New lunch trays debut, following styrofoam controversy
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On September 22, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan overturned the ban on the use of all Styrofoam products in New York City. This ban was proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and had only been in effect since July 2015 with enforcement starting in 2016.
Styrofoam is also known as polystyrene, a plastic based on petroleum. To dispose of the material, it must be buried in landfills where it does not decompose for several years and releases pollutants.
For the past twenty-five years, New York City public schools have been using 860,000 Styrofoam trays each day, throwing out a total of approximately three billion trays. The city spends $330 million dollars to dispose garbage belonging to residences and schools.
Furthermore, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has categorized styrene, a major component of Styrofoam, as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen,” yet students every day consume hot food directly stored on the trays.
Although many teachers and students did not know that the ban on Styrofoam products had existed before it was overturned, they acknowledge that there should be an alternative material to Styrofoam.
Regarding the use of Styrofoam as cafeteria trays, Physics teacher and Robotics school team coach Joel Heitman commented, “Using less petroleum [to create Styrofoam] will always be beneficial for the environment. But Styrofoam is inexpensive, and it serves its purpose of serving hot or cold food, so it is a good enough material for now.”
As for possibilities of alternatives to Styrofoam, Mr. Heitman mentioned, “[Other] plastics are reusable which are friendlier for the environment.”
In 2009, the organization Cafeteria Culture created “Trayless Tuesdays” as an initiative toward using a new material for trays. Instead of Styrofoam, “paper boats,” thin but sturdy paper trays, are used.
Since October 5, a new type of paper tray is being used to replace the previous Styrofoam trays in Townsend Harris’s school cafeteria.
Junior Grace Chung stated, “I think that the new trays are better because they are more convenient and better for the environment.”
These new trays have many more benefits for the environment, and they were first used in May 2015 in some NYC public schools.
The trays are made from recycled newsprint in the United States and are compostable. Hopefully, the new recyclable alternative to Styrofoam will succeed in making the environment a better place.