Fifth graders ask Decatur School Board to bring back reusable lunch trays

(Left to right) Fifth graders Yeats Yarbrough, Calan McGinnis and Bonnie Parker are advocating for City Schools of Decatur to use reusable lunch trays. (Zoe Seiler/Decaturish)

Three fifth graders asked the Decatur School Board during its meeting on May 14 to bring back reusable lunch trays.

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

According to the students, the school is using single-use Styrofoam trays, which produce a lot of trash.

“We have noticed that our school produces a lot of trash every day, around 300 Styrofoam lunch trays,” Parker said.

Parker also told Decaturish that she has noticed trays being ripped apart or flying around the playground. She also notices that the trash quickly piles up in garbage cans.

“There’s not enough space,” Parker told Decaturish. “There’s so many kids. I sometimes spend my lunchtime picking up trash around the lunch area, and it’s everywhere.”

The trays are also not recycled.

“Also, they say they’re recycled, but we don’t recycle them in our school. They just all go into one big trash can,” Yarbrough told Decaturish.

According to an article from the Society of Environmental Journalists, Styrofoam does not decompose quickly once it’s in as landfill. It can take around 500 years to decompose.

Knowing that the students wanted to find a solution to the styrofoam trays.

“We decided to try reintroducing reusable lunch trays in the school district,” Yarbrough said during the meeting.

Parker added that the board may have some concerns or obstacles to switching the trays, but the students offered some possible solutions. If a school couldn’t afford to buy new trays, Parker said the trio would help fundraise, so schools could use washable or decomposable trays.

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

“If you don’t want to use washable trays, you can try decomposable and use them to create richer soil for your school gardens,” McGinnis said.

Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary students Bonnie Parker, Calan McGinnis and Yeats Yarbrough have collected over 340 signatures across several schools to petition for a more eco-friendly lunch tray option. (Zoe Seiler/Decaturish)

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

“The teachers could pick seven students each term to stay in the cafeteria a little longer. One student would scrub the food off the trays, two would wash them, two would dry them all and two would stack them,” McGinnis said.

“Or the cafeteria staff could clean them if they had the time, and they are willing to do it,” Yarbrough added. “Switching to reusable trays would make a big difference and help the Earth, even if only one school decided to make the switch.”

The school board members watched in awe as the students gave their presentation. The board members typically don’t respond to public comments, but all members thanked the students for their presentation.

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

“I will share publicly that I received several emails from the emails this evening,” Herndon said. “They were professional. They were courteous. They were inquisitive. Just the emails alone brought me faith in our students and all that they can accomplish when they set their mind to it. And then I heard it, and I’m blown away.”

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

“Also, 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 everybody to take action and do what is right for the environment,” Parker said.

Decaturish has contacted City Schools of Decatur seeking more information about lunch trays but has not received an immediate response.

This story was provided by WABE content partner Decaturish.