Portland school lunch trays get greener

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PORTLAND — School cafeterias will be greener this fall, after plastic foam trays are eliminated from all city schools.

For the first several weeks of the school year students will continue to use the trays. But by mid-September, those trays will be a thing of the past, replaced by recyclable paper-cardboard trays.

“(The switch) stems back from a challenge we received from students almost four years ago,” said Douglas Sherwood, facilities engineer for the School Department. “Part of that challenge was that there is no real viable reuse for (plastic foam) and as we move toward a greener, more environmentally friendly district, a recyclable tray was a good first step in a series of steps that will hopefully get us to a zero waste goal in the future.”

The new trays are not just recyclable, they are also compostable. However, while they are a better option for the environment, at least up front, they cost $25,000 more than their plastic foam companions.

According to Ron Adams, food services director, the compostable trays cost around eight cents per tray, versus five cents per tray for foam. But the initial cost will be mitigated by savings down the road.

“We’ll see the savings in pick-up costs, facilities management, with trash pick ups being reduced substantially,” Adams said.

Eventually, nearly $50,000 in savings will be realized by the district because of reduced trash pick ups, he said.

Ultimately the plan is to remove all disposable trays from school cafeterias, but that won’t happen until a new central kitchen is completed.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.