Jefferson City High School students did an audit Thursday after school — not of finances, but of trash — and the students hoped to quantify how much of an impact the school district could make by eliminating its use of plastic foam products.
A cold wind and the smell of cafeteria garbage didn't deter members of JCHS' Green Team environmental club from sorting through the bags of trash produced by the school day's breakfast and lunch meals.
Under the supervision of Green Team faculty leader Melanie Fraga and State Recycling Coordinator Rob Didriksen, students sorted through the trash and divvied it up into piles of plastic foam products; recyclables; food waste that could be composted; and other trash that just has to be disposed of.
Didriksen coordinates the state's recycling program within the Office of Administration, but said he was at JCHS on Thursday on his own time.
JCHS sophomore Rani Patel heads the Green Team's "Whiteout" committee to stop the use of plastic foam products at school, mainly plates. The trash they sorted through Thursday also included chip bags, wrappers, other assorted plastic products, milk cartons, a lunch tray, a bleach bottle and a lot of broccoli scraps.
Patel said the effort is important "because this is going to affect our lifetimes and future lifetimes," adding that plastic foam takes 400 years to decompose in landfills after just a few minutes of use, and it can leach the chemical styrene.
She said she met with Jefferson City Public Schools' Superintendent Larry Linthacum, Director of Secondary Education Gary Verslues and Director of School Nutritional Services Dana Doerhoff over the summer, and wrote a follow-up letter a few weeks ago, and had not heard anything, but that Linthacum has arranged a meeting between her and Doerhoff today.
Patel said she hoped to be able to talk about alternatives to plastic foam products before next year's supplies are ordered. School districts in larger cities are using biodegradable plates instead, though they do cost a bit more.
A glance of Amazon.com's offerings shows the cost difference between plastic foam and biodegradable plates — though the products shown may not be the brands or quantities JCPS uses or would have available; a 200-count pack of 9-inch plastic foam plates can cost 4-5 cents a plate, while a 50-count pack of 9-inch wheat straw and sugarcane fiber plates can cost more than 13 cents a plate.
A 200-count pack of 9-inch biodegradable, "restaurant-grade" three-compartment plates was shown to cost more than 16 cents a plate.
The Green Team was also looking to use the results of Thursday's trash audit — how much recyclable material is thrown away — as evidence to show how much of a difference having more recycling bins at school and keeping them located next to trash bins could make.
Junior Bailey Higgins — who co-chairs the team's grant writing committee with fellow junior Jackie Hensley — said having recycling bins next to trash bins would make it more convenient for students to recycle. Higgins added the team is looking to get 96-gallon recycling containers, as well as 48-gallon containers for the school's hallways.
Fraga said that after sorting and weighing the cafeteria's trash, they determined 1 cubic yard of it was plastic foam, and another cubic yard was food waste that could be composted.
She added that 2 cubic yards a day equates to 360 cubic yards over the course of a school year, which she equated with 36 concrete trucks' worth. JCHS currently pays for 320 cubic yards of trash capacity a month at a cost of approximately $575.
Patel encouraged students to be aware of what can and cannot be recycled, and to try to reduce their consumption of plastic foam products.