School district 308 decided to make a major change to the way it serves food in the cafeteria: on Styrofoam trays. In years past, the schools used plastic reusable trays that students could put their food on, and return after the lunch period was over. This year, however, the Styrofoam trays are a new addition to the schools, leaving the reusable trays unused, and the Styrofoam in the trash. Every day for four periods a day, students pick up a Styrofoam tray and dispose of them at the end of the period.
Sophomore Madeline Benzaquen is a member of the Ecology club at East. Benzaquen explained that she was shocked when she saw the cafeteria using Styrofoam. Benzaquen said she takes environmental matters such as these very seriously, and that she has a bad feeling about the waste that the school is producing as a result of the change.
“I can’t even imagine how many trays we use a day, and how much waste we produce a day just because of this new system,” Benzaquen said.
Benzaquen said that she was mortified to learn the impact that Styrofoam had on the environment. According to Scientific American, in 2014 a total of 28,500 tons of Styrofoam was produced and 90% was used to make single-use cups, trays, containers and packaging products. She said knowing that the school will contribute to that rising number has her fearful for the generation after her. She said that the knowledge of what Styrofoam does to the environment only fueled her anger towards using Styrofoam.
“Once it’s produced it stays on this Earth forever. It pollutes our oceans and rivers and clogs everything up,” Benzaquen said. “It upsets me seeing how it clogs everything, and how it’s damaging our Earth. I use Styrofoam sometimes, but I try to stay away from it.”
The school made the switch earlier this year, as a result of the need for consistency across the district. East had to respect a contract issues by Aramark. All the other schools in the district also use Styrofoam, so East was behind in its implementation of the product, according to Aramark Assistant Food Service director Patricia Alexacos.
“The high schools are now rolled into the standardization as of this year,” Alexacos said.
Alexacos also mentioned that the school has a list of items they can purchase and that it has to match the needs of the district. Alexacos stated that the district services to students of elementary schools all the way up through high school, so the allowable vessels for serving food include the divided Styrofoam trays that are in the cafeteria. She also said that the use of the trays actually helps the environment.
“We find that with the use of a five compartment tray, we actually use less paper and Styrofoam products than if we were to use other various vessels,” Alexacos said.
Senior Alexandra Walsh is an AP Environmental Science student and volunteers at the Brookfield Zoo. Walsh said that she cares about the Styrofoam because it is not biodegradable. She emphasized that at least a quarter of the school takes a Styrofoam tray for lunch, and she explained that this issue is a major concern for her.
“Styrofoam doesn’t decompose. There are hundreds of kids who get lunch at this school every day. If it’s just thrown away, the school may not think it has a giant impact, but over time it will,” Walsh said.
Walsh explained that she is concerned about the effects that the school has over the environment. She said that she is concerned with the amount of waste East students will produce.
“The Styrofoam is not only used here, but it is also used throughout the district, and if we were to incorporate plastic trays throughout the district, that could make our district have less of an environmentally negative impact,” Walsh said.
According to Science Learn, a Styrofoam cup takes about 500 years to decompose. Junior Jaden Baker explained that she felt more inclined to purchase a meal at the school last year because of the reusable trays. This year, she said she feels no desire to purchase a meal because of the Styrofoam due to the amount of time it takes for a singular cup to decompose.
“Last year I used to take lunch at school a couple of times. After the Styrofoam, with the change, I was like ‘I’m not about to waste. I’m not about to do that,’” Baker said.
AP Environmental Science student and junior Aidan Keating said he would rather use reusable items in the lunchrooms, or even paper plates instead of Styrofoam. He said that all the extra waste only hurts the environment, and teaches kids to make mindless decisions about environmental issues. According to Cut Fluff, Styrofoam is dangerous when thrown away and sent to landfills. It takes up a lot of room in the landfill due to its material, and it can fly away and end up in other areas to create pollution.
“I feel like it’s just really unnecessary to be bringing all that [Styrofoam] in when it is going to stay here for a long time. It was fine the way it was last year. We weren’t using as many,” Keating said.
Benzaquen said that she was mortified to learn the impact that Styrofoam had on the environment. She said that the knowledge of what Styrofoam does to the environment only fueled her anger towards using Styrofoam.
“Once it’s produced it stays on this Earth forever. It pollutes our oceans and rivers and clogs everything up,” Benzaquen said. “It upsets me seeing how it clogs everything, and how it’s damaging our Earth. I use Styrofoam sometimes, but I try to stay away from it,” Benzaquen said.
AP Environmental Science teacher Connor Downs explained that students are oftentimes aware of environmental impacts on the world, however, he said that through this change at East, it is setting a precedent that solving environmental issues are unimportant.
“We aren’t desensitizing kids, we are making them aware. We just aren’t equipping them with a proper way to solve the issue that they’ve learned about,” Downs said.
Downs said that using Styrofoam in the cafeteria is teaching students bad habits that will follow them into their future, and impact it in a lot of ways.
“We are in an educational setting. Teaching kids that using reusable materials sets them up long term so that they are practicing certain things for the future,” Downs said.
Freshman Lizette Davila, who said she cares very much for the environment said she fears for the Earth due to the staggering amounts of Styrofoam used every year.
“We’re in a generation where if we do not help now, the later generations are going to realize that it’s too late for them to help,” Davila said.
Walsh said that she is appalled by the lack of participation in environmental conservation efforts. She said that recognition is not enough to save the planet.
“No one’s really talking about it, and everyone is kind of going along with it and fine, and people are saying, ‘oh yeah fix climate change’, but they’re not doing anything about it. It’s very contradictory,” Walsh said.
Baker said that she does not use Styrofoam under almost any circumstances. She said that she tries to avoid it at all costs. However, if she had no other choice, she said that she washes and reuses any Styrofoam that comes her way in order to help reduce the amount of waste she outputs.
“If it is the only option, I will grab it and use it, but then I’ll wash it and I’ll use it for something else like arts crafts. I try to stay away from that stuff,” Baker said.
After the school district implemented this change, Keating said that he feels upset when he thinks about the facts about Styrofoam. He said that he hopes that people in the future, near and far, can think about their choices and not use Styrofoam, including East in its cafeteria.
“I really care because going outside and seeing it sit there, just knowing it is going to be here longer than I’m going to be here is crazy,” Keating said.
Aramark General manager Mark Jelenic failed to respond to this publication’s request for comment.
Namratha Prasad is the Features Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl