Styrofoam to Biodegradable

Decatur cafeteria goes green

After eating lunch in Decatur’s cafeteria, do you ever wonder where your trash is going? Outside of Decatur’s cafeteria, the City of Decatur offers residential recycling of paper, plastic, metal and even glass in a separate container. There are also many blue recycling bins throughout the school but there is no recycling in the lunchroom.

Recycling and reducing the amount of plastic used is growing in importance. According to National Geographic’s article, “We Made Plastic. We Depend on it. Now We’re Drowning In It,” by 2017, more than 6.9 billion tons [of plastic] have become waste. Of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin.”

Plastic chip bags, salad boxes, utensils and many more plastics are used in the DHS cafeteria.

When we throw away the plastic salad boxes, plastic utensils, plastic cups and styrofoam lunch trays into trash bins, they end up in landfills where they sit for hundreds of years trying to decompose or end up in our ecosystem.

Some Decatur students, like freshman Sage Arnold, believe that recycling and minimizing waste in the lunchroom is important but not important enough to protest outside of school.

“I just think many people don’t focus on the fact that we don’t have recycling because they have other things going on in their lives and it isn’t very important [right now],” Arnold said.

Even if the cafeteria received recycling bins, plastic utensils and styrofoam are excluded from the City of Decatur recycling agenda.

Arnold believes that Decatur should also offer more recyclable-friendly options to plastic and styrofoam.

“Us throwing away styrofoam is super unhealthy towards the environment and it doesn’t break down for years and years,” she said. “Using plastic forks and spoons and stuff is super unhealthy and is gonna cause the world to be filled with trash.”

School Nutrition Director, Allison Goodman, has big plans for Decatur’s path towards a more eco-friendly experience in the lunchroom. For now, “we currently do not have a large enough dumpster for recycling everything but my boss, [Executive Director of Operations], Noel Maloof, is working on getting us one,” Goodman said.

In the future cafeteria recycling could be a reality. Already, Goodman has found an alternative to styrofoam trays.

“We have actually ordered compostable lunch trays to start using when we cannot wash dishes for whatever reason,” she said.

Compostable trays are $0.45 more than plastic trays according to NPR. This price comparison can become substantial when buying for many, but for Goodman, the cost is worth it.

The new compostable trays being used in the cafeteria.

Decatur is still working to figure out what to do about plastic utensils and salad boxes. These plastics would be difficult to recycle even if there was recycling in the cafeteria. There are some options of recyclable plastic utensils but they are usually more expensive than regular plastic utensils that are non-recyclable.

Other than packaging waste, schools tend to produce waste from meal prep. According to Huffington Post in 2016, “schools across the nation waste an estimated $1.2 billion of food each year,” Cohen said. At Decatur, food waste from meal prep is low.

“We prepare a great deal of food from scratch or use fresh fruits and vegetables,” Goodman said. There is very little food packaging going to waste in Decatur High School. With Goodman’s push to make Decatur’s cafeteria more environmentally friendly and with students like Arnold, being environmentally conscious is something that is clearly valued at Decatur.

With its committee and people like Allison Goodman who are striving to reduce environmentally harmful waste at Decatur High School, Decatur is determined to become more eco-friendly even if it takes time to get it done.


Contact the writer, MaryRyan Howarth, at

All photos by MaryRyan Howarth