Miami-Dade Schools Rolling Out Compostable Plates in Cafeterias

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The Miami-Dade County public school system is saying so long to an environmentally unfriendly menace: Styrofoam. Instead, the district is rolling out compostable plates. 

"Our district has been working on sustainability initiatives for some time," says Penny Parham, administrative director of the school system's Department of Food and Nutrition. "Also, a round compostable plate was desired to better feature our menus that include more choices of beans, rice, vegetables, fruit, and grain dishes."

For a long time, at 4 cents per plate, Styrofoam was the only affordable option. But thanks to Miami-Dade's partnership with the Urban School Food Alliance (which also includes New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Orlando), the county was able to negotiate a collective deal. Compostable plates usually average 12 cents each, but the alliance got a deal of 4.9 cents each.

Made in America (Maine, specifically), the molded-fiber compostable plates are produced from preconsumer recycled newsprint. The plate has five compartments, with the beverage section in the middle to balance the weight of the meal. 

The new plates will be implemented in August, when school is back in session. 

"The plate is also a move away from the institutional appearance of the rectangular tray. The polystyrene tray cannot be composted, and efforts at Styrofoam recycling were challenging and did not yield the desired reduction in waste and cost," Parham says. "By partnering with our alliance districts, we were able to get an item at an affordable price to be used in an organic collection and provide the ability to start compost/biodegradable waste disposal solutions."

The district anticipates a favorable response from students. 

"Our students are a driving force for eco-sustainability, and some have formally requested the removal of Styrofoam in the past. However, until now, a biodegradable/compostable tray was not an affordable option," she adds.

"We will be engaging our students with information and promoting sustainability initiatives to reduce waste when switching to the compostable tray. The new compostable service plate supports school initiatives such as organic edible gardens and landscapes and offers new opportunities to develop learning labs for students that support initiatives already underway throughout the district."

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