Students being served on lunch trays made from sugar cane. Photo by Joshua Bright for The New York Times.

Simply Sustainable

As schools and school districts crack down on food waste and improve on their recycling efforts, it is important to question whether food service manufacturers are also doing their part to preserve the environment. What changes have they made? What products are available and what can schools purchase to safeguard the environment?

“More so than ever before, consumers are increasingly conscientious of the environmental and humanitarian consequences of food production in 2018… According to a recent Innova Market Insights trends forecast, the number one consumer food trend in 2018 is making “mindful choices.” This means consumers are expecting food manufacturers to offer sustainable, transparent, ethically-sourced, and non-wasteful product offerings.”

As consumers, school districts can contribute to a cleaner environment by purchasing sustainable products from the manufacturers they already use. Schools can also continue their environmentally friendly efforts by placing their product orders digitally with PrimeroEdge’s Inventory module. Save time and trees!

From cutlery to lunch trays, food service manufacturers are catering to the demands for compostable eco-friendly solutions. Manufacturers such as Pactive, Huhtamaki, Genpak, Fabri-Kal and others are looking into different building materials for their everyday products. From sugar cane, to cornstarch, to wood fiber blends to plant based PLA resins such as Ingeo, manufacturers are helping us change our use of styrofoam and other non biodegradable products. Ingeo is a range of biopolymers that use the carbon stored in plants to create PLA pellets that can then be transformed into crystal clear cups, coffee capsules, yogurt cups and much more.    

“The Urban School Food Alliance—whose members are public school districts in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Orlando, FL—hopes to persuade suppliers to create and sell healthier, cheaper and more environment-friendly products by combining their purchasing power.”

On the other hand, it isn’t as easy to decide to make these changes district wide. Schools use thousands upon thousands of disposable lunch trays, most of which are not biodegradable and can end up as a pollutant for years. These non-compostable trays end up being a fraction of the cost than that of their eco friendly alternatives. These pricing disparities can, in turn, cost thousands of dollars more per year therefore hindering school districts to change for the better. 

“Nationwide, school districts have shied away from the recyclable trays, since polystyrene trays cost an average of four cents each and compostable trays average 12 cent apiece. Not for the districts that are part of the Urban School Food Alliance, though, which joined together to commission a price of 4.9 cents per tray. This coalition of school systems, by using the new serving trays, will remove 225 million polystyrene trays a year from landfills.”

Although there is a significant 66 percent increase, according to the Education News article, between non compostable and compostable products, several school districts have banned together to help combat the disparity. The Urban Food Alliance, is an alliance of about 10 school districts that come together to increase their buying power against the price points for environmentally friendly products. This buying power has made the pricing more comparable and competitive enabling schools to participate in this sustainability movement.

This movement for more environmentally friendly products will continue to grow as science and technology harness natural resources to produce everyday products in innovative ways. Although there might be barriers with this change, specifically in the school nutrition arena,  there are several resources and workarounds that can bring schools a step closer into a waste free environment. 

For more on eco-friendly measures check out my blog on food waste, Food Is A Terrible Thing to Waste.