Foam-Free School Lunch in Greenwich, CT

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We call on the Greenwich Board of Education and Greenwich Public School (GPS) Administration to commit to replacing disposable foam trays with a safer, more sustainable food serviceware & to undertake these initial actions:

•To conduct a cost analysis & life cycle analysis of disposable foam trays versus reusable foodware
•To fund pilot programs to test reusable food serviceware in GPS cafeterias
•To survey existing cafeteria infrastructure

What’s the problem with the foam trays in Greenwich Public Schools cafeterias?  Our children’s lunches are served on a tray made of a foam product, also known as Styrofoam or polystyrene.   While this foodware is cheap, it among the most harmful materials in terms of the health of our children & the environment.  At approximately 3 cents per tray, an affordable & safe alternative is difficult to find.  Yet the long-term health & environmental impacts of foam trays are not reflected in that cost. 

What are the health hazards of foam trays?  Cafeteria foam trays contain styrene, a chemical classified as a possible human carcinogen & a neurotoxin.  Chronic exposure to styrene also increases risk for depression, headache, fatigue & kidney dysfunction.  Styrene can leach into hot & acidic foods from foam food ware & can be ingested when students scrape the trays with utensils. 

What is the impact of foam tray manufacture on health & the environment?  Styrofoam is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.  Every step of its production involves chemicals of high concern to the environment & human health, including benzene & styrene. Styrofoam production was rated as the 5th largest source of hazardous waste.  It creates a trail of  harmful pollution & waste for just minutes of use!

 How much waste do foam trays generate in our schools & why does this matter?  Due to food contamination, the majority of foam trays are thrown in the trash instead of recycled.  Each year about 75%, or over 350,000, of the foam cafeteria trays enter our waste stream to be incinerated.  Over the past decade, more than 3.5 million foams trays were thrown in the trash in school cafeterias.  The incineration of polystyrene produces harmful emissions, such as sulfur dioxide, dioxins, carbon dioxide & more.  Even when the trays can be recycled, there may not be a reliable economic market or environmentally effective way to recycle them. 

Why not switch to a safer disposable?  While other disposables are available, they generate considerable waste, are often difficult to recycle due to food contamination, and are generally more expensive than polystyrene trays.  In addition, recent research reveals that some foodware contains fluorinated additives (PFAS) to provide grease, oil & water resistance.  PFAS are associated with serious health problems, and children are especially at risk because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to these toxic chemicals.  PFAS are extremely persistent & break down very slowly in our bodies & the environment.  A safer, affordable, single-use tray does not currently exist on the market, but paper boats and bags are disposable options used in other school districts.

Why are reusable trays the best option?  The most responsible way to reduce the health & environmental impact of foam trays is to switch to reusable wares, like plastic baskets and durable compartment trays. They are designed for thousands of uses, not just one. While there may be upfront costs and increased water and energy use, GPS can save money in the long run by eliminating the annual expense of purchasing and disposing single-use trays. 

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