The used lunch trays Emily Fox took home about four years ago from the loading dock outside her elementary school were gross, some still plastered with ketchup. ¶ Emily stacked the trays in piles of 10. She wanted to know just how many polystyrene lunch trays Piney Branch Elementary School students went through in a day. ¶ “Three hundred and twenty-five,” said Emily, now 12 and a middle school student. “And they all go into the incinerator and get burned and it’s very unenvironmental.” ¶ For more than four years, Emily and other members of the Young Activist Club in Montgomery County have been asking the Board of Education for a dishwasher at Piney Branch. They want to phase out foam for something greener, but their lobbying and fundraising, which has netted more than $10,000, have yielded little success. ¶ From Maryland to Illinois to California, environmentally minded students are pushing to remove polystyrene trays from cafeterias and replace them with compostable, reusable or recyclable alternatives. But change has been slow. School districts say that they want to go foam-free but that tight education budgets, infrastructure limitations and the relatively high prices of earth-friendly materials are often insurmountable hurdles in difficult economic times. ¶ Even in Portland, Ore., known as one of the greenest cities in America, some schools still serve lunches on styrene-based, disposable trays.
“I hate serving on Styrofoam, but when push comes to shove, you have to decide where you’re going to spend the money,” said Gitta Grether-Sweeney, director of nutrition services for Portland Public Schools.