Ban Styrofoam? LA Schools & Jamba Juice Say Yes

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that there has been a major shift in the way school lunches are being served in the district. The Los Angeles Unified School District has begun using recyclable and compostable paper cafeteria trays instead of the styrofoam lunch trays.

The paper reported that two years ago, students at Thomas Starr King Middle School in the Los Feliz area of LA started a campaign that led to last week’s move. The students were moved to activism after their 6th grade class studied the impacts of trash on the environment. They found out that lunch room trays were not being recycled and started bringing their own plastic trays that could be reused. In addition to this, groups of students stood guard by trash cans and reclaimed the trays before they could be trashed. Over a thousand trays that were saved and they were strung up on a tree which got everyone’s attention. Indeed, David Binkle, the district’s deputy food services director looked into the matter of bringing about a radical shift in the policy.

The district of LA 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. Now all the schools use paper trays simply because a bunch of sixth graders found a reason to protest.

Jamba Juice Phases out Styrofoam Cups
In another story of pre-teen heroism, a ten year old’s petition convinces juice company Jamba Juice to phase out styrofoam cups. Mia Hansen collected over 130,000 signatures and the company agreed to phase out styrofoam by 2013.

Starbucks, McDonalds Talk About Styrofoam Recycling
Starbucks is also looking to find a way to recycle its polyethylene-lined paper cups by 2015. Many companies, like the coffee magnate, are looking into recycling their own trash – in other words, internalize the cost of processing the rubbish that they generate. The recession means that city authorities are unable to handle the influx of garbage and are looking to offload their recycling responsibilities onto the companies responsible for its creation. Faced with ever-increasing tipping fees, companies that are able to invest in a ‘closed loop’ system can save money and do the right thing at the same time.

Even McDonald’s has considered replacing its foam cups with paper.

Last year California made a move towards a state-wide ban on styrofoam. Cosmetic company Lush has replaces styrofoam packaging peanuts with popcorn instead. The issue of styrofoam recycling was one of the top ten environmental topics on Google last year.

Why All the Fuss?
Polystyrene or styrofoam is not widely recycled because it is expensive to ship. While it’s lightweight, it takes up a lot of space – 98 percent air to be exact. It also takes up a large amounts of space in landfills and where it will slowly deteriorate over tens to hundreds of years. Although methods exist to recycle polystyrene, it does not get recycled due to the logistic problems mentioned above.

Hard-to-recycle throwaways like this are a point of focus for companies. An all out ban on styrofoam may be impossible but it can be done in phases and through innovative means. It might take a whole lot of sixth graders and ten-year-olds for the impact to be truly felt but companies can no longer ignore issues such as these. Perhaps, especially because they are coming from the new generation of environmental leaders.

Image Credit: Styrofoam Food Box, Wikimedia Commons  

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net