How Cardboard Trays Could Help Save the Environment

Jenny Zhang, Staff Writer

Metal or plastic? Composition or cardboard? When building a new school, even the little decisions are important, especially when constructing a new cafeteria.

Since trays are widely used in cafeterias, the composition of trays should be carefully scrutinized based on cost and environmental concerns. Choosing from a range of options, the decision to use recyclable compostable trays was both logical and practical.

As the environment continues to worsen, recycling is at the forefront of every decision-making process. Daily use of trays is an overwhelming problem, especially since a large portion of the student body purchases both breakfast and lunch from the cafeteria. Therefore, the environmentally-safe disposal of trays is of the utmost importance.

Reusable trays was one option, but that requires an inordinate amount of water. Extra water usage, especially in our ongoing drought, does not seem like a responsible use of resources. Compostable, however, can be easily discarded and recycled.

While many other schools still use metal and plastic trays in their cafeterias, this requires additional space for dishwashers as well as the extra water, detergents and other chemicals for sanitizing.

Though the School Nutrition Association sees some of these costs as insignificant in that “dishwashers are energy efficient these days, using only .3 to .5 gallons per rack,” nevertheless, “the initial cost startup of using permanent ware can add up to a $30,000 investment. That includes the washing machine, dish tables, exhaust hood fan, and the exhaust shaft.”

Rather than spending the extra money associated with reusable trays, this money could be invested inside the classrooms.

There are other benefits to using compostable trays as well. For instance, they are more sanitary. Though plastic trays are carefully cleaned to remove all germs, there is no guarantee that every tray is completely germ-free. Recyclable trays, though, avoid any possibilities of spreading diseases.    

Food Service Supervisor Cindy Prunty said she is enthusiastic about the decision to use disposable trays as well.

“It seems to be more sanitary; only one person is using it,” Prunty said. “This means we don’t have to take plastic trays, [and] put them in [the dishwasher]. It’s clean for students.”

From an environmentally-friendly perspective, using cardboard trays is the most effective way to relieve our environment issue.