Third-graders work to eliminate Styrofoam lunch trays |

Third-graders work to eliminate Styrofoam lunch trays

Incline Elementary School third-graders pose with Landfill Larry, their entry in the Discovery Museum’s Styrobot Challenge. Students built the Styrofoam robot to bring awareness to unnecessary Styrofoam use in school lunchrooms.
Courtesy photo |

Starting in early 2014, Incline Elementary School will be Styrofoam-free, thanks to some persuasive third-graders in Mr. Harssema’s class.

Officials with the Washoe County School District Nutrition Services have tentatively agreed to replace the Styrofoam lunch trays with reusable plastic trays.

Below are some student letters written to the district which helped inspire the change. The class project also included research assignments, meetings with school administrators, presentations to other classes, a petition signed by more than 300 students and a Styrofoam engineering project.


Dear WCSD Nutrition Services,

I am writing because we want to ban Styrofoam at Incline Elementary by 2014. I am in 3rd grade, Mr. Harssema’s class. We are learning about how Styrofoam is bad for the environment.

The reason Styrofoam is bad for the environment is because Styrofoam takes up as much as 30 percent of our landfill space and its 98 percent air so it floats ( Washington University found out that Styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose. 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups are used each year and toxic chemicals leak into food we eat (

Another thing it does is saves lots of money. There are three reasons it saves money. The three reasons it saves money are: you buy less trash bags, the dumpster is filled less so trash pickup goes down and we buy less Styrofoam trays. In 2011/2012 the dumpster was emptied 5 times per week that was when the Styrofoam trays were not stacked (cost: $1,000 per month). Now the Styrofoam trays are stacked (2012/2013) it’s emptied 3 times per week it costs $600 per month if we switch to plastic trays the dump truck might come 2 or 1 times per week which will save $200 to $400 per month.

We aren’t just writing these letters, we are putting up posters, making a school wide petition and we are going to give every class in Incline Elementary a short presentation. Can you help us replace Styrofoam with plastic?

Sincerely, Dillon Lambert

Dear WCSD Nutrition Services,

My class is planning to eliminate Styrofoam from our school. We want Styrofoam gone by 2014. My school uses 150 Styrofoam trays in a whole day and 27,000 Styrofoam trays in a whole year. Also Styrofoam takes up 30 percent of the space in our landfills.

This is why Styrofoam is bad. Styrofoam can cause bad illnesses because toxic chemicals can leach into food ( Did you know 25,000,000 Styrofoam cups are thrown away every day ( 2.3 million tons of Styrofoam ends up in landfills each year and Styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose (

We noticed recently that it’s not just the harmful things that Styrofoam can cause it’s also a big waste of money for our school. Well in 2011/2012 we had to have the garbage truck come 5 days a week and we spent 1000 dollars a month. But then our House Keeping Supervisor discovered that if we start stacking our lunch trays we will save money on trash collection. So in 2012/2013 we started stacking our lunch trays and now we only need the garbage truck to come 3 times a week. Now we only need to spend 600 dollars a month and so we saved 400 dollars a month.

This is how we are going to get rid of Styrofoam. We are writing persuasive letters, then we will show them to the district. We already had a meeting about this with our principal Mr. Mares. Third of all we will have short presentations to every class in our school and show how Styrofoam is bad for our school and how Styrofoam it’s bad for our planet. And when were done we’ll hope for the best and see if our plan worked.

Sincerely, Mia Coudriet

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