Styrofoam switch was temporary during visit from officials
School district considers permanent biodegradable alternative for lunch plate
by Adriana Rambay Fernández
Reporter staff writer
Sep 30, 2012 | 2326 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LUNCH TRAY – Lunch was served on a biodegradable paper tray for a special visit to the Secaucus High School by the State Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and by a USDA representative.
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The Secaucus school district is still not in compliance with a municipal ban on Styrofoam, but will soon consider whether or not to make the switch for their lunch trays.

The schools made a temporary switch to paper trays on Sept. 19 when the State Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and a U.S. Department of Agriculture representative visited. But the change was not permanent and Styrofoam was back in use in the schools last week.

According to Business Administrator Ron Smith, the school district is waiting to review a cost analysis that will be provided by the food service company Maschio’s. The cost analysis will compare rates for Styrofoam to other alternatives.

Maschio’s did not respond to an email and phone call left to ask the reason behind the temporary switch to paper.

The term Styrofoam is commonly used to describe polystyrene foam, which comes in the form of disposable cups, plates, and take-out containers.

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“I want to see the [cost] analysis in writing.” – Ron Smith

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The mayor and Town Council passed a resolution in October 2011 to ban the use of polystyrene foam from schools, restaurants, and small businesses because it is not biodegradable and can contaminate the soil and waterways. Local restaurants like Outback Steakhouse and the Bonefish Grill immediately complied with the ban, but the Dunkin’ Donuts in town center switched back to Styrofoam after a trial run using paper because customers complained the paper cups were too hot to hold.

Cost to switch

The Environmental Committee met with the school district last December to request that the schools eliminate serving lunch on Styrofoam. However, the school district continued using the product.

Smith estimates the cost to switch for the entire year is approximately $25,000.

By contract, the district pays an annual $75,000 administrative fee to Maschio’s that is guaranteed to give the district back a $150,000 profit above the $75,000. The cost to switch from Styrofoam to biodegradable paper would be deducted from the district’s total profit.

School officials are still waiting for the total cost analysis.

In an interview earlier this summer about the amounts that the company pays for lunch trays, Chris Traks, Maschio’s Regional Supervisor, said, “It is the cost that the manufacturer passes on to us. It is not that Maschio’s increases the price.”

Traks said it was up to the school district.

“It is a business decision,” said Smith. “I want to see the [cost] analysis in writing.”

He said that the school board’s Finance Committee will review the cost analysis before it goes to the full board. He said it is not likely that the decision will come up for the next board meeting in October.

Board trustees will have to decide whether the school district can afford to pay more for a biodegradable lunch tray, especially after voters rejected the $35 million school budget by a near tie (944 to 943) last April. The budget was trimmed down by $129,500 after the mayor and Town Council proposed cuts.

Support for the change

During the special lunch visit by state and federal officials, students said they were happy to see a paper tray because it was sturdier than the Styrofoam tray.

One senior said the Styrofoam tray breaks in half.

High School Principal Robert “Bob” Berckes was in favor of the switch to a biodegradable tray.

“Absolutely. I am a scientist and I am eco-friendly,” said Berckes.

A number of board trustees were also in favor of the change. “I’m in favor of the switch,” said Kelli D’Addetta, board trustee. She said that if the school district can afford to switch and be in compliance with the town ordinance then she supports the move.

“We should all be doing our part to help the environment itself,” said Salvatore Manente, board trustee.

“I think the issue is not only environmental but a health issue. It is something that we have to do,” said Board Trustee MaryAnn Weiner. She said that she eliminated Styrofoam in her own home, used up her supplies, and purchased paper products for her picnic items.

“Maybe we can start taking slower steps toward that process,” said Weiner. She suggested an iterative process of removing Styrofoam while they consider what alternatives are available.

“If the town has agreed to banning [Styrofoam], we are going to follow suit,” said Board President Jack McStowe earlier this year.

“The mayor and I are under the impression that they have biodegradable trays now,” said Amanda Nesheiwat, Environmental Committee Chair.

“We told the school how important it was that they switched and that we would soon be enforcing the ban,” said Nesheiwat in an email. She was under the impression that the school district already had switched to recycled corrugated trays.

Nesheiwat has been working to get other places to stop using Styrofoam such as local businesses like Bagel Buffet. The municipality has continued to reach out to businesses to get them to switch, but have encountered concerns related to the increased cost and the ability to keep food hot with paper products.

Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at afernandez@hudsonreporter.com.

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