Maggie: There is one thing you won’t find anywhere in this cafeteria. It is Styrofoam.
In fact, you won’t find Styrofoam in any school in the entire Los Angeles Unified Public School District, the second largest school district in the country. And it is all thanks to an environmental studies class from Thomas Starr King Middle School. Students here use these trays made which are made from a paper blend and, unlike Styrofoam, can actually be recycled after use.
Why is it so bad to use Styrofoam as school lunch trays?
Kylin: Styrofoam does not decompose ever. It will take thousands to 100,000 years to decompose.
Maggie: Kylin was a student in the class two years ago when they first began studying the environmental effects of Styrofoam. But first they had to find out just how much of it their school used on a daily basis, so they counted every Styrofoam tray one-by-one. Fourteen hundred trays were pulled from the trashcans that day and they put them on display in the school’s garden, in a sculpture they named The Styrofoam Monster. Now multiply that by all the schools in the district and that is more than 40 million Styrofoam trays ending up in landfills every year.
What does it feel like to know that you are five feet standing next to The Styrofoam Monster – Styrofoam being used every single day in your school – and it is literally towering over you?
EM: It’s just – it’s really weird to think about. I mean, I knew we used a lot, like, we wasted a lot of Styrofoam trays here. But I didn’t think it would be seven times my size.
Maggie: The Styrofoam Monster caught the attention of the school district’s superintendent and that eventually led to the new paper trays, which are also better for the health of the students. Unlike Styrofoam, these paper trays don’t contain styrene, a chemical that has been linked to cancer in humans. So that means they are much safer to eat your lunch off of.
Critics say a ban will cut jobs in the Styrofoam industry and raise costs, but school officials say the new trays actually cost less. And the city will save millions by not having to clean up Styrofoam litter.
And these students aren’t stopping at Styrofoam lunch trays. Next on the list, plastic straws. The students are now pushing hard for a ban on plastic straws because they know it only takes a small group to make a monster impact.
EM: It just feels so cool, like, to know that just such a small group of students made such a big change and it feels really good.
Maggie: Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.
- How did the ban on Styrofoam in the Los Angeles Unified Public School District get started?
- Why is Styrofoam bad for the environment?
- Why was it important for the class to find out how much Styrofoam the school was using?
- What impact did the Styrofoam Monster have on the project?
- What is Styrofoam made out of?
- Why has the district started to use paper trays for lunch?
- Why were some critics concerned about the ban on Styrofoam?
- What was the financial impact on the district?
- What is the next investigative project for the class?