A Greener Cafeteria


When students in Rob Lindsay’s class examined the school’s solid waste, they found that the cafeteria generated the majority of it, including food waste and non-recyclable Styrofoam trays.

To reduce the waste from their cafeteria, the students separated these two streams and tackled each. For food waste, they designed and implemented a process for separating compost and other waste. For the problem of Styrofoam, they looked to a Project Citizen service-learning project completed by students at nearby Lyman Moore Middle School the previous year for information.

Convinced they needed to replace the Styrofoam trays to green their school, the students researched paperboard recyclable trays. They found it would cost thousands of dollars. However, Huhtamaki donated the recyclable paperboard trays for a pilot program.

Students explained the purpose and process to the student body and presented their plan to the school board. They also made a film to explain the process to share with other schools in the district.

To measure the success of their efforts, students compared the number of full trash bags used and the amount of material recycled before and after the project. More than 300 Styrofoam trays per day were taken out of the waste stream. The number of recycled milk bottles doubled.

“Although you might have a small class, you can make a big change,” one student reflected.

Community partners included ecomaine, the regional waste corporation; City of Portland Department of Public Works; the Portland Waste Reduction Group; the Portland Public Schools Food Services Department; and Organic Alchemy, a local start-up composting company.

The pilot program is a joint effort by the school district Huhtamaki Packaging of Waterville, Maine, who donated several thousand trays made of recycled paper. The new trays could be the start of something big when it comes to recycling in Portland, Maine schools.