Just Say styNOfoam

Earlier this month, the New York City Education Department (DoE) began the process of reviewing bids submitted for alternatives to the styrofoam plates it uses in its breakfast and lunch programs. If it determines that a bid is sufficiently cost-effective, it will expand its pilot program - currently running in four schools with 30 more shortly to join - to the 1,200 schools it oversees.

Price has been one of the biggest hangups (as well as public support). As Leslie Fowler, director of nutrition support services on the Chicago school system, noted in the December 1 New York Times article, foam trays cost 4 cents, while compostable trays have - until now - never cost less than 15 cents. But Chicago, and the other five members of the newly formed Urban School Food Alliance, are betting on volume to change the game.

Volume is certainly in the urban school systems' favor: the New York DoE alone must dispose of about 850,000 plates per day, and Miami - which has already replaced its styrofoam trays with sugarcane-fashioned substitutes system-wide (mmm...how sweet sustainability tastes) - is preventing about 700,000 plates from daily reaching the landfill. The other four school systems - Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Orlando, Fla. are in various stages of adoption.

If successful, not only could compostable trays become economically feasible for a variety of service providers, but - along with other alternatives (like those promoted by the DoE Sustainability Initiative) - become part of a systems-shift for the younger generation, for whom sustainable alternatives and thinking about environmental effects becomes incorporated thinking.

So. as Mark Izeman of the Natural Resources Defense Council and coordinator of NRDC support for the initiative, points out: what's not to like? Unless, of course, you're referring to the sloppy joes on your plate.