Urban School Food Alliance Turns Cafeterias Green

Six cities nationwide have begun the process of turning their public schools into more environmentally-friendly institutions. Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Orlando make up the Urban School Food Alliance, a group whose mission is integrating green consumption practices into their public schools’ cafeterias. The alliance began at a school-nutrition conference in the summer of 2012 and some districts have already begun testing environmentally-friendly practices in select schools.

Some cafeterias in Miami and New York have implemented compostable plates made of sugar cane as a replacement to older Styrofoam models. These plates are environmentally-friendly and their integration into the students’ routine looks to be seamless – they can simply toss the plates, along with any leftover food, into a bin that will be shipped off and turned into compost. These plates are more expensive than the traditional Styrofoam ones, at 15 cents compared to 4. However, the alliance plans to compensate for some of the extra cost by selling the compost, which is in high demand, to third parties. The practice is currently in a tester stage in both cities but will soon be implemented on a wider scale, with the rest of the alliance member-cities to follow.

The next step to sustainable school cafeterias is in the food itself. The alliance is putting in an effort to make a deal with suppliers of antibiotic-free chicken. Beyond the health benefits to the children, school officials hope that the new practices will provide an example to public schools nationwide and eventually establish a new standard. Future plans include implementing sustainable practices in areas of tableware, pesticide-free foods, and cutting down on packaging waste.

The future of the Urban School Food Alliance appears promising. Other districts are requesting membership, and there is hope that their practices will eventually extend into other establishments such as hospitals and universities. As Penny Parham, the administrative director for food and nutrition in Miami’s school districts said, “I want our money and resources for food going into children, not in garbage going to the landfill.” The Urban School Food Alliance is indeed paving the way for a student- and environment-centered atmosphere in public schools rather than the cost-focused path they are on now.