Make it Green Mondays- Sustainability Beyond The Classroom

There has been some debate regarding reusable lunchware and the more popular trend of disposable lunchware. Of course, the latter is easy to obtain and clean up, but how is that impacting the environment? One study suggests that more than 30% of trash discarded is made up of containers and packaging. This disposable packaging consumes so many of our natural resources, which include energy, oil, water and trees. 

Now I totally get that schools aren’t selecting disposable options because they want to have a negative impact on the environment, rather they simply seem more convenient because it doesn’t require the time or manpower to wash. However, to my surprise and likely yours, most studies showed that even factoring in the energy and other resources necessary to wash reusable foodware, the environmental impact still came out to be lower than that of using disposable trays and utensils. There was a vast amount of information regarding this particular topic, but one thing that every source had in common was the fact that reusable compartment trays had a lower environmental impact and were less expensive when compared to that of disposable serving options. They also used the least amount of energy, had the lowest amount of solid waste, and lowest greenhouse gas emission. 

What I discovered was that though there is an initial cost in purchasing reusable lunchware over time, schools began to save annually over the cost of disposable trays and utensils. I believe it is also overlooked that there are hidden figures in the cost of disposable trays that must be factored in. The additional cost in offering disposable foodware options comes in the form of cost of the trays themselves, to the cost of trash bags and increased hauling from the added daily waste created. An average size school can produce more than 30,000 pounds of waste in their lunchroom alone.

I was able to find a pretty cool study done by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that found the following results: schools prevented 6,712 pounds of trash and were expected to save $23,000 over three years. Further, they reduced greenhouse gases by 77% and water consumption by tens of thousands of gallons. The added dishware only took an additional 20 minutes of employee time to wash per day and the dishwasher loads went from 38 loads to a slight increase up to 41.5. 

Overall the “inconvenience” expected was actually not one at all. I do want to mention that the more “energy efficient” the dishwasher are the greater the savings on water and energy are. Just think if more schools had the ability to make the jump back to reusable lunchware how much of an impact that would have on the carbon footprint. I’ll leave you all with a quote that spoke to me, “Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change.” – Barbara Milkulski

For OK Green Schools,

Shavara J