Asheville students win grant to help environment by replacing Styrofoam lunch trays

Score one for the environment: Vance Elementary School Student Council members Emiliano Maldonado (center), Juliana Floriani (left) and Isabella Bevans show off the school's new compostable trays and sporks. Photo by Tracy Rose

A student-generated idea to help the environment by getting rid of Styrofoam lunch trays in the school cafeteria is becoming a reality at Asheville’s Vance Elementary School.

The school’s Student Council, a group of a dozen fifth graders chosen by their teachers and other students, came up with the idea, says Robbie Lipe, the group’s faculty advisor and school art teacher.

The kids homed in on environmental concerns, particularly Styrofoam piling up in the landfill and the global loss of topsoil.

“I’m blown away by the kids,” Lipe says. “They were a very informed group.”

The students researched the options and worked with Lipe to submit a grant proposal to DonorsChoose.org, an online charity that helps to fund school projects across the country.

The proposal, “Changing the World: One Lunch Tray at a Time” sought $1,319 to replace the school’s Styrofoam trays and plastic sporks with compostable ones for one day a week for the rest of the school year, Lipe says.

Students had considered the possibility of seeking funding to hire a fourth cafeteria worker to run the school’s existing dishwasher, but decided that the amount of water and the cost of energy to keep the temperature high enough to sanitize the trays wouldn’t be environmentally friendly. They hit on the idea of compostable trays and sporks after learning that major schools systems in Los Angeles and Dallas had gone that route, Lipe says.

In submitting the proposal, the kids also learned about the costs of going green. Styrofoam trays cost 3 cents per tray, while compostable ones are 18 to 25 cents per tray, Lipe says. The school spends $1,600 annually on Styrofoam trays, while compostable ones would cost about $4,500 annually.

In six days, the project was fully funded. Donations came from around the country, including California, Minnesota and Florida. Many were small donations ($4.44, for example); the largest was $250.

“There’s a lot of interest in eliminating Styrofoam,” Lipe says.

The compostable trays and sporks arrived Feb. 4, and Lipe is working with the cafeteria manager to roll out the first “Foam-Free Friday” on Feb. 20.

Three Student Council members got their first look at the new trays not long after they arrived, and the fifth-graders were all smiles about their accomplishment.

“We got a full grant,” enthused Emiliano Maldonado, who researched the topsoil part of the grant application.

“It’s so much better than just having an idea,” says Isabella Bevans.

And what did they learn from the experience?

“If you work as a team, you can get a really big job done,” offers Juliana Floriani.

The Student Council is already working with the Asheville City Schools Foundation on plans for a new, local fundraiser to expand the program, Lipe says. In addition, the group plans to meet with Asheville City Schools officials about spreading the program throughout the district. They even have dreams to include Buncombe County Schools in the effort.

The kids, who will transfer to middle school next year, already have plans to return to Vance next year to see how the program is going.

“They’re making a legacy for other kids in the school coming up,” Lipe says.

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4 thoughts on “Asheville students win grant to help environment by replacing Styrofoam lunch trays

  1. Buuuut...

    But after a teacher thought that the compostible sporks looked more like “guns” than the plastic ones did, the school immediately returned to its old ways.

    • parrish

      Is that really true? I hope you’re joking – paranoia is running rampant as it is…

    • emiliano

      Actually we have foam free fridays so we have compstaboe things only then

  2. Lisa Lindberg

    Nice article & student initiative. Upon finishing reading the article, this question immidiately occurred to me: What is the destination of those used, compostable trays & sporks — along with the students’ & kitchen’s food scraps? : (1) A composting facility, whether municipal or private — set up to turn compostable waste into usable compost?  or  (2)  The municipal landfill along with all the rest of the city’s trash — a place where nothing ever composts and everything keeps building up, forever ?    (If it is a composting facility, then: good.)

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