The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system has converted all its polystyrene lunch trays to compostable trays as part of its environmental sustainability efforts.

Brent Campbell, spokesman for the school system, said in a press release that the compostable trays will degrade faster than polystyrene in landfills “and provide other school parent and student groups an opportunity to implement a successful composting program similar to the pilot program underway at Speas Global Elementary.”

Lauren Richards, the director of Child Nutrition for WS/FCS, said Wednesday in an interview that Speas Elementary has a full composting program in its lunch room and works with a commercial composting company.

“A composting program takes significant student and parent involvement to kick off and maintain, and they have that presence, desire and motivation there,” Richards said of efforts at Speas.

In May 2019, parents and students at Speas Elementary started a pilot composting program during lunch service. Chartwells K12 covered the cost difference for compostable trays versus polystyrene tray.

In June 2019, the WS/FCS Board of Education voted to replace polystyrene trays with compostable trays throughout the WS/FCS cafeterias during the current school year. However, this change does not include schools that currently have usable — plastic and washable — trays.

Speas Elementary has been able to carry its composting program into the 2019-2020 school year with the help of its PTA and parent volunteers, along with school leaders’ support.

“Roughly, one 90-gallon drum is filled with compost waste daily,” Campbell said. “The composting program is also providing learning opportunities for students on the importance of sustainability.”

Here’s how the program works at Speas Elementary: “Trash” is divided into five different waste bins — liquid, food waste, trays, recyclable containers and other trash. At each lunch period, an adult volunteer helps students in this process.

Each lunch period requires an adult volunteer to assist students in this process.

This school year, the plan is for student volunteers in each grade to take over at lunch to make sure the composting is done properly.

Schools in the district that are interested in composting programs “would be responsible for utilizing community donations, or PTA or other organizational funds,” Richards said.

“The other option that’s strongly encouraged is to apply for a number of various science grants that are out there to help support programs such as this,” she said.

Smith Farm Elementary School has been using the compostable trays since the school began operating seven years ago.

Cynthia Rash, the principal at Smith Farm Elementary, said that the compostable trays are better than styrofoam for environmental reasons and she appreciates the school system converting from polystyrene to compostable trays.

“However, since we do not have a compost bin, we are not composting them,” Rash said of her school. “They just go into the trash, which I don’t like.”

Rash said that she believes staff and students at Smith Farm Elementary would prefer trays that can be washed and reused, saying they are stronger and easier to carry.

“I am an environmentalist,” Rash said. “I believe that we must be good stewards of our earth in all that we do.

“I do think that schools produce a lot of unnecessary waste. And I think we could do a better job, while teaching our students environmentally sound practices and the reasons behind them.”

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