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L.A. schools drop foam lunch trays for recyclable paper ones

August 23, 2012 |  5:52 pm

Los Angeles Unified School District leaders announced Thursday that students would no longer carry their school lunches on plastic foam trays. Instead recyclable paper trays would be used.

The news came during a lunchtime ceremony at Thomas Starr King Middle School, where two years ago the activism of some sixth graders kicked off the effort to ban foam trays.

Martin Gonzalez, 13, said it all started in Ann Holtzinger’s sixth-grade class. They were studying the effects of trash on the environment, and the students learned that the cafeteria’s plastic foam trays weren’t being recycled. They raised money to buy their own bright yellow reusable plastic trays and began using them at lunch each day.

“It was weird at first, but you get used to it,” Gonzalez said. “I think some people were actually jealous.”

Groups of students also stationed themselves near trash cans and plucked used plastic foam trays from the hands of other students before they could be trashed.

“Yeah, it was gross,” Desiree Laguna, 13, said.

Then the class strung together 1,260 of the discarded trays and hung them from a giant acacia tree in the center of campus.

That got everyone’s attention, said David Binkle, the district’s deputy food services director.

The district uses about 40 million trays a year. The new paper tray is about 3 to 4 cents cheaper per unit and saves the district about $5 million to $6 million, Binkle said.


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