Parkway helps to close the loop – environmentally speaking that is
By: Carol Enright
The cafeteria just got a little bit greener for students in the Parkway School District.
On Sept. 25, Parkway began piloting compostable lunch trays at six schools in the north area of the district: Bellerive, Craig, McKelvey and Ross elementary schools and Northeast Middle and North high schools. The new trays, which are made of 100-percent recycled paper and are 100-percent compostable, will replace the Styrofoam lunch trays that are currently used in the schools’ lunchrooms. A $20,000 grant from the St. Louis Jefferson Solid Waste Management District is funding the pilot.
Parkway students and staff will not only be eating off compostable trays, they will be disposing the trays and their food scraps into special composting bins. Throughout the week, the full bins will be replaced with clean bins and transported to a local composting facility where their contents will be composted into nutrient-rich soil that will then be sold by the commercial composting service. District officials are touting the new trays as a way to keep thousands of Styrofoam trays out of area landfills.
“Styrofoam is petroleum-based, and there’s only one current method of disposal in the St. Louis region – and this is to dispose of it in a landfill,” said Erik Lueders, the district’s sustainability and purchasing manager.
According to Lueders, Parkway goes through about 700,000 Styrofoam trays annually, and the pilot program should keep about a quarter of those out of the waste stream. Lueders said the new trays are “actually closing the loop” by not only keeping material out of landfills, but turning that material into “a nutrient-rich compost that can go back into feeding the earth.”
Parkway Northeast Middle School science teacher, Tony Chiodini, called the pilot “awesome.”
Northeast Middle has a garden, which will allow the students there to have a bird’s-eye view of the cycle that begins with growing produce and comes full circle in composting.
“It’s just really cool that we get the kids to see that full circle – from pulling nutrients out of the ground, eating it and then bringing it back into the ground with all your food scraps,” Chiodini said.
Parkway Central High School junior, Julia Goldman, said she is very excited about the new trays. The 16-year-old said she first became interested in the district’s lunch trays when her sophomore biology teacher questioned the use of Styrofoam lunch trays in schools.
Then, while on summer vacation, Goldman noticed that the hotel her family was staying at served breakfast on Styrofoam dishes.
“I was just really concerned about why our country uses so many materials made of products that are nonrenewable,” said Goldman.
“Styrofoam is a petroleum-based product, and petroleum is a nonrenewable resource. It’s a fossil fuel. I just don’t think that we should be using that.”
Goldman said she understands that organizations use products like Styrofoam because they are less expensive.
“Obviously, Styrofoam’s cheap, it’s quick, it’s efficient. Why not use it? But in my opinion, I see it as ‘why use that? Why use something that’s so bad?’” she said.
Goldman will make her case to the Parkway Board of Education in April 2013, when she and another student from the school’s environmental club will make a presentation encouraging the Board to expand the pilot to the entire district.