The Woodland Joint Unified School District is preparing to take a significant step toward becoming more sustainable by replacing its current polystyrene food trays with biodegradable trays.
Beamer Elementary student Luciana Pimentel requested the District consider alternatives to its current use of polystyrene, an inexpensive but slow to degrade plastic at a March 14 board meeting.
A written report provided to trustees laid out the four food tray options available to school districts: polystyrene, a biodegradable tray made from sugar cane, a melamine food tray, and a “paper boat” similar to what stadium food is served in.
While trays made from melamine, a chemical compound which when combined with formaldehyde produces a hard-setting resin, are reusable and perhaps the best long-term option, the District does not have the available labor or dishwashers they would require.
In its report, the District’s Food Services department recommended switching to the biodegradable option.
While not shown to be toxic, Child Nutrition Director Spencer Springer advocated at an April 18 board meeting for biodegradable trays over melamine due to the minor chance that repeated wear of the trays could affect the protective coatings on them.
Biodegradable food trays cost .07 cents per tray, four cents more than current polystyrene trays.
The Food Services department operates with a budget of $5.2 million and Springer estimated the biodegradable trays would cost around $32,000 more per year.
“If we’re looking at the health and safety of our students,” Springer said. “Then I’d say that’s absolutely an amount that we can stomach.”
The switch will require the District to ensure it’s compliance with Assembly Bill 1826, which as of January 2019, required businesses generating four cubic-yards of organic waste per week to arrange recycling services for that waste.
The biodegradable trays will affect the amount of organic waste the District produces while also reducing it’s trash waste. Springer said the District has already had discussions with Waste Management in regards to remaining compliant with AB 1826.
While a biodegradable option for food trays has been found, the District cannot make a full-scale ban on all polystyrene products until alternatives for various others it uses are found.
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