A pilot project at Hand Middle School in Columbia may turn out to be a solution to a growing problem. As schools across the nation have made the switch from reusable plastic lunch trays to disposable lunch trays, land fills are filling up with an estimated 40 million polystyrene trays a year. Hand Middle has began a pilot program using disposable trays made of bamboo and sugar cane. The advantage to these disposable trays is that they can be made into compost minimizing the waste. This allows the school to save money on several fronts. There is the cost of the electricity to wash the trays daily and the school also saves money on the man hours and the cost of soap to wash those trays. Since beginning the project, the cafeteria has gone from 30 bags of trash a day to between 10 and 15 bags daily.
Pete Pillow of the South Carolina Department of Education says even if the cost of the new trays is similar to the polystyrene trays, the benefit environmentally is worth it. “Even though these trays cost more initially than a polystyrene tray, if the plus is they produce less waste and they can be recycled in an environmentally friendly way, they may turn out to be cost-effective in the long run,” said Pillow.
“Maybe the revenue would be neutral which would be nice if you consider that environmentally it would be better for our community.”
Pillow says this may not be a solution in more rural areas but in the urban areas where recycling and compost operations already exist, it could be ideal. He also says that, to their knowledge, this pilot project is the first of its kind. According to Pillow, “to their knowledge, the Hand Middle School (trays) are the first ones that would be turned into compost.
“The principal said today ‘wouldn’t it be nice if our lunchroom trays were ground up and became compost and they came back and were put around our flowerbeds and our trees and actually fed the campus’. We’d feed the students then use the trays to feed our environment on the campus.”