Closing the loop on composting school lunch trays

Compostable school lunch trays made by Huhtamaki North America give school districts in the United States a viable option to foam when it comes to keeping waste away from landfills and making their programs more sustainable. 

Huhtamaki’s molded fiber compostable trays are produced from recycled paper fiber and made at our facility in Waterville, Maine. The tray can then be discarded to a compost pile where it will eventually become fertile compost to be used in gardens and landscaping.

In Olathe, Kansas, schools are using these compostable trays everyday and closing the loop.

According to Scott Kingery, Director of Food Services for the Olathe School Distict, they began looking for better alternatives when the school district’s energy manager applied for and was awarded a United States Government grant for a composting project in 2007. The Energy Manager worked with the City of Olathe on a number of initiatives and was aware of their composting facility. He approached Kingery about Food Services sourcing and using compostable breakfast/lunch trays as a pilot project, using the grant funds for the purchase of compostable trays for schools in the Olathe area.

“I partnered with Craig Lusker with Spirit Group, Huhtamaki’s area broker located in Olathe,” Kingery said. “Huhtamaki was able to provide the compostable product that both met the needs of Olathe Food Services at a reasonable price and was a product the City of Olathe could compost in their facility.”

Once the grant funds had been exhausted, the school district decided to continue using the compostable trays, as well as the meal tray composting program. 

“In my 28 years in the foodservice industry, receiving questions of our environmental impact, I have done a fair amount of research into the topic as it relates to the industry,” Kingery said. “It is my conclusion that we as members of society generate waste.  It is unavoidable.  Currently, this waste must be responsibly returned to the soil, air, water or in a combination of those locations.  Solid waste and its related environmental impact is a complex issue - much more complex than one might imagine at first thought.”

Kingery concluded that composting represents a good solution for handling this part of the solid waste stream that is generated.

Compostable product, produced with recycled materials, is naturally composted in a local facility and is transformed into a compost product that is available at no-cost to residents of the City of Olathe for use on their property. 

”At Huhtamaki, we are very focused on offering a competitively priced, sustainable tray to the school market,” Alexis Guetzlaff, Foodservice Product Manager said. ”Over the years, we have made many improvements to our offering to make it easier for schools to transition. While the beginning of life story of a recycled paper product is great, it is always so exciting when schools are able to complete the life cycle by partnering with their local municipalities and composting programs.  We are so happy that they are taking advantage of all of the benefits of our tray.”

This type of program is taking shape at numerous school districts across the country, including a widely publicized project where the six largest school districts in the United States agreed to begin replacing 225 million polystyrene trays per year by using a new round, five compartment school lunch plate created by Huhtamaki North America.

To learn more about the Urban School Food Alliance, please visit www.urbanschoolfoodalliance.org.