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Fifth-grade students ask Decatur school board to bring back reusable lunch trays – WABE

Three fifth-graders asked the Decatur school board to bring back reusable lunch trays during its May 14 meeting.

If that’s not an option, they would at least like to see a biodegradable, single-use option. Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary students Bonnie Parker, Calan McGinnis and Yeats Yarbrough have collected more than 340 signatures at various schools to petition for a more environmentally friendly option.

According to the students, the school uses single-use Styrofoam containers, which produce a lot of waste.

“We noticed that our school produces a lot of waste every day, about 300 Styrofoam lunch trays,” says Parker.

Parker also told Decaturish that she noticed trays being torn apart or flying across the playground. She also notices that waste is quickly piling up in garbage bins.

“There’s not enough room,” Parker told Decaturish. “There are so many children. Sometimes I spend my lunch time picking up trash around the lunch area, and it’s everywhere.”

The containers are also not recycled.

“They also say they are recycled, but we don’t recycle them at our school. They just all go into one big garbage can,” Yarbrough told Decaturish.

According to an article from the Society of Environmental Journalists, Styrofoam does not decompose quickly once it ends up in a landfill. It can take about 500 years to break down.

Knowing that the students wanted to find a solution for the styrofoam containers.

“We decided to try to reintroduce reusable lunch containers to the school district,” Yarbrough said at the meeting.

Parker added that the administration may have some concerns or obstacles in changing the trays, but the students have suggested some possible solutions. If a school can’t afford to buy new trays, Parker said the trio would help raise money so schools could use washable or biodegradable trays.

McGinnis also added that compostable trays could also be an option.

“If you don’t want to use washable bins, you can try using the compostable bins and using them to create a richer soil for your school gardens,” McGinnis said.


Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary students Bonnie Parker, Calan McGinnis and Yeats Yarbrough have collected more than 340 signatures at various schools to petition for a more environmentally friendly packed lunch. (Zoë Seiler/Decaturish)

The children suggested that the students could help wash reusable trays. Parker said she went to a camp where they counted students in the cafeteria who were responsible for sweeping, stacking, rinsing, washing and demolishing. McGinnis proposed a modified version of this.

“Each semester, the teachers could choose seven students who had to stay in the cafeteria a little longer. One student scrubbed the food off the containers, two washed them, two dried them all and two stacked them,” McGinnis said.

“Or the cafeteria staff could clean them if they have the time, and they are willing to do that,” Yarbrough added. “Switching to reusable containers would make a big difference and help the planet, even if just one school decided to make the switch.”

The school board watched in awe as the students gave their presentation. The board members do not normally respond to public comments, but all members thanked the students for their presentation.

Board member Hans Utz jokingly decided to reopen the budget discussion. Board President James Herndon added that the administration will contact students to further discuss the trays.

“I will say publicly that I received several emails of the emails this evening,” Herndon said. “They were professional. They were courteous. They were curious. The emails alone gave me confidence in our students and all they can achieve if they put their minds to it. And then I heard it, and I was blown away.”

All three students told Decaurish they wanted to do something to help save and protect the Earth.

“Besides, this Earth is the only planet we have to live on right now, and I want to save it,” Yarbrough said.

Parker encouraged others to reduce waste by using silicone bags, reusable containers and water bottles instead of single-use plastic bags or bottles.

“We all want to encourage everyone to take action and do what’s right for the environment,” Parker said.

Decaturish has reached out to Decatur city schools for more information about lunch trays, but did not immediately receive a response.

This story was provided by WABE content partner Decaturish.