VENTURA : Elementary Pupils Recycle Lunch Trays

An experiment in recycling plastic foam lunch trays is being conducted at Junipero Serra Elementary School, where students have demanded a more active role in participating in the environment.

Ever since Earth Day, which promoted environmental awareness, students have urged school officials to adopt more recycling programs, Principal Tom Carmody said. In response, Ventura Unified School District officials have launched a weeklong test program at Junipero Serra.

Instead of throwing foam trays full of food into a trash can, students are being asked to dump the food and stack the trays nearby. About 1,600 trays have been collected since Monday when the program began, said Priscilla Alquist, director of Food Services.

“Before we went full-scale, we wanted to see if the students would cooperate and whether it was economically feasible to recycle the Styrofoam trays,” Alquist said.


Junipero Serra was chosen for the experiment because, with about 800 students, it is the district’s largest elementary school, Alquist said. If successful, the program may be expanded next September to all of the district’s 24 schools, she said.

Students say they are enjoying their role as guinea pigs.

“We’re a good influence on other people,” Kurt MacDonald, 10, said as he waited in line to stack his tray. “It makes more sense this way,” the fifth-grader said.

Waving one of the small trays in the air, 10-year-old Brandon Friend agreed. “These things aren’t very biodegradable,” he said. “By doing this simple thing, we can help save the environment.”

But school officials are still uncertain whether it would make economic sense to separate the foam trays from the rest of the district’s garbage. The cost of storing the used foam and transporting it to the nearest recycling facility about 45 miles away may not be worth the trouble. The trays are eventually crushed and used for more plastic foam products.

The district pays about $76,000 a year to have its trash hauled away.

“The only way we can make this work is to reduce the amount of garbage collected from our Dumpsters. If we can significantly reduce the volume of garbage sent to the dump, we might be able to save enough money to make the recycling worthwhile,” Alquist said.

By conducting the foam tray recycling experiment at Junipero Serra, Alquist said she hopes to get a better idea of how much the program will cost.

“We’re still in the studying phases of this and we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle together yet,” she said.