SCE School Lunch Tray Project Helps Make School Lunch More Sustainable


SCE students doing field research at a public school in Chinatown. Image: Daniel Michalik

Last year, students from Parsons School of Design launched a class project to re-design school lunch trays in New York City. Working with the nonprofit environmental organization Global Green USA, students sought to replace the trays, which for many years have been made from non-recoverable polystyrene foam, with an aesthetically pleasing, functional, recyclable and compostable alternative.

Now, the students are seeing the fruits of their contribution: The Urban School Food Alliance, an organization leading the charge for more sustainable practices in schools, announced that it will start rolling out compostable round plates at cafeterias in six of the largest school districts in the United States, including New York.

Led by Assistant Professor of Product and Industrial Design Daniel Michalik, students were part of the initial effort by New York City Department of Education to make the switch from polystyrene trays to compostable plates. In the classroom, students worked both individually and in groups to research the design constraints associated with the cafeteria trays. In addition, through their partnership with Global Green, students visited schools to see trays in use, toured manufacturing and recycling facilities, and made presentations to industry professionals.

The six districts utilizing the plates serve 2.5 million meals a day. By using these new environmentally friendly trays, the Urban Food Alliance estimates that 225 million polystyrene trays will be removed from landfills every year.