Out There

polystyrene (styrofoam) trays

Posted in teaching by Pete on August 18, 2008

So here is a random topic I’ve chewed on for a few years (no pun intended) and was just reminded of by a colleague. Our school district, like New York City public schools, uses styrofoam (well technically it’s called polystyrene) trays to serve breakfast and lunch to all students everyday. Keep in mind that our village dump is actually just a spot on the tundra half a mile from the village on the edge of a lake and everything is burned from time to time. So we’re paying for these trays, which appear to cost between $35 and $70 per case of 500.

Now keep in mind the shipping will greatly increase that cost. The district might be paying as little as $55 per case if they’re getting a good deal. Then there is the cost of driving over to the post office and picking them up (1.5 miles each way by boat or snowmachine, and school employees do this on the clock), and then 3 full trash bags that they fill (per meal), and then the cost of hauling those full trash bags by the handcart load out of the school, down the boardwalk to the school dock to the school boat and to the dump (.5 miles each way and again on the clock). This doesn’t take into account the environmental cost, nor the supreme irony of everyone in the lower 48 getting bent out of shape over global warming that is mostly only affecting people in the remote north, while we in the remote north burn our styrofoam to save a little $. Penny wise, pound foolish, I suspect. But this is what I wanted to examine, to find out.

So I thinking we’re paying at least 11 cents per tray just to get them to the post office. Then the gas (at $6 or more per gallon) to haul them everywhere and the salary of those doing the hauling, plus using up the big trash bags when they’re done. I think I can quite safely say 13 cents per tray. So we have about 65 kids and some staff and community members who eat at school every meal, so lets say 80 trays per meal. 80 trays * $.13 = $10.40. Meanwhile, we live in an area (see Wade-Hampton Census area and Bethel Census area) with outrageous unemployment over 25%, where you have no difficulty finding someone who would be willing to wash 80 reusable trays in an hour for around $8 in pay.  And if our district is paying a higher price than they should for the trays, and if I’m underestimating the other incidental costs, maybe it’s as much as 18 cents a tray, which would come to $14.40 per meal, about enough to pay for TWO hours of dish duty.  So…wouldn’t it be cheaper to go with the environmentally friendly, reusable lunch tray? I know this is a simplistic analysis, but surely I’m in the ballpark.  Correct me where I’m wrong.

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  1. mpb said, on August 18, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Don’t forget that what goes up in smoke (from the dump) comes down (on the berries and fish) as mercury and other lovely chemicals.

    I’m assuming you have the “3-sinks” necessary for washing up — wash, rinse, disinfect– and hot water?

    Actually, the kids should do their own dishes maybe, or at least scrape the food waste into a worm compost bin. Some schools in Minnesota have their kids compost everything outside, even in winter.

  2. Pete said, on August 19, 2008 at 12:35 am

    Yup, I agree with you on all counts. Getting the kids and folks who bristle at anything that smacks of environmentalism to buy in could be difficult, but I like your ideas. The compost would be really cool, especially in tandem with a classroom or school vegetable garden (could be part of a whole science unit, a quarter at a time moving from class to class).

    As for the 3 sinks, yes we do. They’re all right next to each other and work well and have unlimited hot water. Someone here thought maybe one reason was you have to heat the dishes to a certain temperature – the old bleach water trick doesn’t cut it anymore. I don’t know if this is true or not (the rule I mean. I believe in the power of good old soap & water & bleach), but if so, you could even get a dishwasher. Hmmm…something else I’ll have to price. That would be expensive, plus shipping, plus electricity to run the darn thing. Good grief. If that’s a rule, it seems like a dumb one.

  3. mpb said, on August 20, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Check the state’s website for the latest 3-sink rule. Bleach still is the best disinfectant around. The only temperature requirement is for the soapy water, I think. It isn’t so high as to burn fingers, just help dissolve grease that hangs on to germs. Dishwasher would save water in homes, and probably save energy. Not so sure about industrial dishwasher, though.

    I wonder of it is worth the cost for hot water, the washer, etc. if everyone in the village could use it? Some villages have invested in a communal meat prep special kitchen.


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