News and Speeches

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein Announces "Trayless Tuesdays" - an Initiative to Replace Lunch Trays with Environmentally Friendly Paper Containers


All New York City Public Schools Will Participate in the Pilot Program

Trayless Tuesdays Will Divert 2.4 Million Polystyrene Trays from Landfills Every Month

        Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and the Department of Education’s Office of School Food today announced the launch of “Trayless Tuesdays,” a pilot program to replace polystyrene trays with paper containers. The goal of the program is to reduce landfill waste by using lunch trays made from biodegradable materials. Each Tuesday, polystyrene lunch trays in all City schools will be replaced with paper containers known as “boats.” Beginning April 13, the Department will also begin using paper containers to serve breakfast on Tuesdays. The Department of Education serves 623,039 lunches and 205,317 breakfasts daily.

        “This program will help make our schools more environmentally responsible, while also sending a powerful lesson to students about the importance of sustainability,” Chancellor Klein said. “Students will see first-hand that if they each make small changes in their daily lives, those efforts can add up to make a big difference for the future of our City and our planet.”

        The Department selected the paper “boats” after evaluating a number of other products that would similarly support the goal of reducing environmental waste. Replacing the polystyrene trays with the paper “boats” is cost neutral, whereas other solutions, such as sugar-cane-based trays, would cost an additional $4.9 million annually. The paper “boats,” which measure 8.1”x 5.9”x 2.1,” have room to hold a sandwich or a serving of chicken and rice with a piece of fruit and a salad. The container itself is made of paper with a clay-based lining. The Department of Education is working with the City Sanitation Department to evaluate whether the trays can be recycled. The pilot was developed in partnership with the grassroots organization Styrofoam™ Out of Schools (SOSnyc) and Parsons The New School for Design.

        “This pilot project represents our commitment to reducing landfill waste,” Deputy Chancellor for Infrastructure and Portfolio Planning Kathleen Grimm said. “The Department of Education serves more than 800,000 meals daily. By replacing trays that will never decompose with paper boats, we estimate that we will divert 2.4 million polystyrene trays from landfills every month.”

        “We are always looking to make our schools more environmentally responsible, and this initiative is an important step in that effort,” CEO of Transportation and School Food Eric Goldstein said. “With the collaboration of parents and support from Parsons, we developed a pilot program that will dramatically reduce the amount of landfill waste generated by our schools, and over the next few months, we will be evaluating the pilot program to see if it can be expanded.”

        Parsons presented the DOE with the idea for eliminating polystyrene trays in City public schools following projects carried out by Parsons students last year under the guidance of faculty members Jessica Corr and Debby Lee Cohen, who also is the founder of SOSnyc. Last spring, first-year students at Parsons created artwork out of 1,000 used trays from public school cafeterias. In the summer, another group of Parsons students interviewed students at P.S. 19 in Manhattan about creative ways to reduce waste from polystyrene trays. Most recently, Parsons students designed posters that will be displayed in school cafeterias and kitchens to build awareness of the Trayless Tuesdays pilot.

        “The opportunity to work directly with public school students on important environmental issues was very exciting for our students,” Jessica Corr, co-founder of Research, Education, Arts and Design Lab in the School of Design Strategies at Parsons said. “This project is part of our larger mission to empower public school students through design to make change in their communities.”

        “We applaud the Department of Education for implementing Trayless Tuesdays, which is a great first step toward eliminating polystyrene food trays in our children's cafeterias,” Debby Lee Cohen, founder of SOSnyc said. “We hope that this initiative will encourage City agencies to work together toward developing healthy and sustainable alternatives to polystyrene trays.”