Students seek to halt use of plastic foam lunch trays

May 04, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Environment-conscious students are urging the Howard County schools to do away with plastic foam lunch trays in favor of washable plastic or recycled cardboard.

Despite one plastic foam recycling program begun last week, students say they want the trays banned next school year.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said he would organize a committee to study the issue after students took the matter to the school board at its last meeting.

"Ideally, we want plastic reusable lunch trays that could be washed instead of throwing Styrofoam trays," said Bonnie Hoffman, a 17-year-old leader in the Down to Earth West student environmental group.

Last Monday was the first day of a pilot program to recycle foam trays and plastic forks and spoons at Clarksville Middle School and milk cartons and juice boxes at Swansfield Elementary School, where students and teachers last year came up with the idea. Atholton High School is expected to join the program soon.

"I thought I died and went to heaven and we would start recycling," said Mary Klatko, the schools' food services supervisor who thinks recycling the foam is better than throwing away recycled cardboard trays, which are the end-products of recycled paper.

These cardboard trays would still fill up landfills, she said.

But students are unsatisfied with recycling the foam trays, and they're not crazy about cardboard trays, either.

"It still encourages the idea of a throw-away society," said Bonnie, a Mount Hebron senior who helped collect nearly 275 signatures on a petition to ban the foam trays. "For the Styrofoam recycling program to work, we would have to separate food -- essentially the same concept as reusable trays," she said.

Whether students use reusable or foam trays, they would have )) to scrape off food before trays can be washed or put in a bin for recycling.

School officials say washable trays are expensive, about $2.50 each, compared with pennies for Styrofoam and about a dime for recycled cardboard trays. They argue that high schoolers often throw out the plastic trays, making them too costly to use.

School board chairman Dana Hanna said he was waiting for student support before the school system would invest in washable trays. "It's going to require the student body themselves to buy into the idea of using recyclable trays," he said. "When students buy into it, there's a vested interest."

Glenelg High School began using recycled cardboard trays two weeks ago on Earth Day, and Oakland Mills students this year campaigned to use washable trays, pledging to pay for those that were thrown away or lost.

Ms. Klatko said Oakland Mills started the year with 384 trays and has lost 383 of them. Student groups have paid to buy some $50 worth of those trays.

Centennial students also lobbied for washable trays two years ago, but Ecology Club sponsor Jane Geuder said their efforts were thwarted by administrators as well as custodial and cafeteria staff, none of whom gave support.

"We had posters and PA reminders," said Ms. Geuder, a biology teacher. "We gave it our best shot. But the protective lids [on trash cans that would prevent students from throwing away trays] were not always used by the custodians and they often threw trays away themselves if they were left behind by students."

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