by Elizabeth Gerken – Staff Writer
If you get lunch here at Kentlake, you probably get a Styrofoam tray with your lunch. This has been the case since middle school, or even earlier for many of us, but should it be? It turns out that, no, it really should not. Styrofoam lunch trays are perhaps the worst option for student’s health, the planet and Kentlake’ s wallet.
Styrofoam as a material is notoriously toxic by nature. It is made from a form of petroleum which is turned in to massive amounts of greenhouse gas during production thus contributing to the global issue of climate change. After production and use the Styrofoam is thrown into the garbage because it cannot be recycled or composted in most cases, and in the landfill, it takes 500 years to decompose at the least according to the Future Center Trust, a nongovernmental environmental education and protection organization in Barbados.
Along with being an environmental hazard, it is also hazardous to our health. Styrofoam, or polystyrene, contains the chemical styrene which is a neurotoxin that, when in contact with warm or greasy food, breaks down and absorbs into the food. Once the styrene is consumed it is absorbed by the fatty tissues in your brain. Styrene has been linked to depression, vision, hearing loss, and even cancer in some animals. Although the amount that is present in cafeteria pizza when people eat it is small, constant exposure can still lead to health issues.
With all these negative effects on the environment and on people you would think it would be cheap but in fact it is the opposite. A pack of 500 lunch trays costs around 33 dollars depending on where you buy it from. This seems like a good deal but if you take into account that you have to buy enough for all 1501 students at Kentlake for all 180 days of the school year, that price jumps to $17,820 dollars a year just on Styrofoam lunch trays.
All these factors are cause for a switch to something a little more sustainable, less toxic and less expensive. Reusable plastic lunch trays. Even though plastic is still not as clean as some other materials, it is the least expensive of all the other options and would require the least amount of modification to the current lunch routine. Plastic trays do not have the negative effects that styrene does on the food and the consumer, and they are reusable and recyclable if need be. Most plastic lunch trays cost around $1.50 a piece, which sounds expensive, but when you consider the fact that they are reusable and only need to be purchased every few years if that, they come in at $2,251.50 for 1501 lunch trays, one for every student. The school could even go out and get an additional 500 and the total price would be $3,000.00.
The one downside to the plastic trays is the fact that they must be washed. Depending on the dishwasher, the price varies but for a industrial door type washing machine it takes 1 hour to wash approximately 1,800 trays using 4 gallons for every 18 trays at $00.16 per gallon witch adds up to about $53.76 a day and $9,000.00 per year. While this is still a pretty large expense, it is still $8,820 less per year, which in the long run would be significantly cheaper than the Styrofoam alternative, and does not have the health hazards cause a decrease in the environmental damage.
Next time you pick up a Styrofoam lunch tray with your cafeteria nachos or pizza, ask yourself, if we could be doing better, why aren’t we?