Asheville City Schools need to smarten up on waste

I am a parent of a junior at Asheville High School. I recently attended an Eco Club meeting there to express my concerns over disposable plastic foam trays being used for mealtimes, and to discuss possibilities for their replacement with more sustainable, reusable resin or plastic trays such as those used in many schools and restaurants.

The students and teachers present at the meeting informed me that this has been an ongoing concern for both the staff and the student body. I was told that the tray issue is multifaceted, but mostly financial.

Asheville High has a dishwasher, so some resin trays are available in addition to the plastic foam trays. Many students choose to use the reusable trays over the disposable ones, but many more choose the plastic foam trays. Students at the meeting explained that Asheville Middle School only offers those trays because there is not a dishwasher in its cafeteria. Since disposable trays are the only option at Asheville Middle, students are in the habit of using them. I then learned that all of Asheville City's elementary schools use the plastic foam trays as well.

The fact that our city's schools — all eight — are using and disposing of thousands of foam trays each day is extremely upsetting. Plastic foam is harmful to the environment, never biodegrades and is extremely wasteful. There are over 3,000 students in Asheville City Schools. If each student uses one tray per day, then that is over 3,000 trays that must be purchased per day. This comes to over 540,000 trays being bought and thrown in the garbage each school year. In addition to the cost of purchasing plastic foam trays, is the cost of disposing of them. The school system is charged a Dumpster fee, which could be significantly reduced by eliminating foam trays from our schools’ lunchrooms.

I propose a funding drive to purchase dishwashers and resin trays for the schools lacking them and suggest that we reach out to the community at large for help. This is an issue that is affecting us all.

If you would like to offer input, suggestions and help regarding this issue please contact Asheville City Schools at or 350-7000.

— Karen Hardison

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