Urban Schools Aim for Environmental Revolution
Nothing seemed special about the plates from which students at a handful of Miami schools devoured their meals for a few weeks last spring — round, rigid and colorless, with four compartments for food and a fifth in the center for a carton of milk.
Looks, however, can be deceiving: They were the vanguard of what could become an environmental revolution in schools across the United States.
With any uneaten food, the plates, made from sugar cane, can be thrown away and turned into a product prized by gardeners and farmers everywhere: compost. If all goes as planned, compostable plates will replace plastic foam lunch trays by September not just for the 345,000 students in the Miami-Dade County school system, but also for more than 2.6 million others nationwide.
That would be some 271 million plates a year, replacing enough foam trays to create a stack of plastic several hundred miles tall.
“I want our money and resources for food going into children, not in garbage going to the landfill,” said Penny Parham, the Miami school district’s administrative director of food and nutrition.
Compostable plates are but the first initiative on the environmental checklist of the Urban School Food Alliance, a pioneering attempt by six big-city school systems to create new markets for sustainable food and lunchroom supplies.
The alliance members — the public school systems in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Orlando, Fla. — are betting that by combining their purchasing power, they can persuade suppliers to create and sell healthier and more environment-friendly products at prices no system could negotiate alone.