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Schenectady students don't want polystyrene trays

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Schenectady students don't want polystyrene trays

Second-graders at Zoller Elementary School might be changing the world for the better.
Schenectady students don't want polystyrene trays
Lashea Webb, left, and Alexis Gibson eat lunch at Zoller Elementary School in Schenectady on Friday, May 9, 2014. Their second grade class is writing letters to the Board of Education to get rid of the polystyrene lunch trays for a more environmentally...
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

Second-graders at Zoller Elementary School might be changing the world for the better.

After studying the environment, they questioned the use of the disposable polystyrene trays they throw away after lunch every day.

They learned in class that the material doesn’t biodegrade in landfills. So they protested — all the way to the school board.

The class sent a series of letters, each asking the board to stop using polystyrene trays. The children painstakingly explained, in handwritten missives, that the trays would sit in landfills forever. They are bad for the environment, they wrote, as if the school board might simply not be aware.

Of course, school officials have long known the impact of the lunch trays.

But buying reusable or disposable trays would cost more, according to Director of Business and Finance Kimberly Lewis.

“It’s a cost issue,” she said.

School board members have pressed her for a solution that would satisfy the second-graders. So she said she’s looking into it.

“We’ll continue to explore whether there’s some more earth-friendly options,” she said.

The school district contracts with another company to provide lunches at Zoller Elementary School. Board of Education President Cathy Lewis said the company would charge more for different trays. But she wanted to know how much more, and what sort of trays could be used instead.

Reusable trays would have to be washed — which could require more storage space as well as manpower and appropriate sinks.

Schools Superintendent Laurence Spring said that could be a problem.

“Most of our kitchens are warming kitchens,” he said. “We don’t have all the commercial dishwashing stuff.”

But some school districts use cardboard trays, which can degrade in a landfill.

Spring is looking into it, but whatever the outcome, he’s thrilled that the students used their education to evaluate the world around them and then took action to change it.

“That’s what authentic education is about,” he said.

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