Pinellas County schools switch from styrofoam to paper lunch trays

By September 16, 2019

The district serves up more than 86,000 meals and 7,000 snacks on an average day.

Author: Jenny Dean

CLEARWATER, Fla. — On an average day, Pinellas County Schools serve up more than 86,000 meals and 7,000 snacks.  And, they’re all served on trays, in bowls, cups and boxes that get tossed in the trash.  

But this year, the nutrition department made a small change that will have a big impact on the environment: Getting rid of styrofoam trays in favor of more environmentally-friendly paper ones.

Each day, High Point Elementary in Clearwater goes through 600 trays. The school said students like the new paper trays.

“We’re going green this year,” Food Service Manager Clarence Miller said. “They like the new shape and the way if feels and the heaviness of it.”

“We were bringing in a lot of styrofoam. And this stuff, while it’s inexpensive (and) affordable for us, what it was doing to the environment was really on my mind,” Lynn Geist, Pinellas County Schools Food and Nutrition Director, said.

A stack of 250 styrofoam trays is about two and a half feet tall. The district uses 11,000 trays a day. That stack of trays is a little taller than a 10-story building, and it all just went to the landfill where it can take hundreds of years to decompose.

Geist said they studied this change for a long time. 

“We looked at several different types of trays, and this is the one that we settled on, which is 100 percent recycled paper,” she said.

And it’s not just trays; the district is also using paper boxes, cups, bowls and straws. High Point Elementary principal Melody Mendoza says it’s truly leading by example. 

“For us, seeing paper goods in the cafeteria is one way of really educating our students indirectly and at the same time infusing these lessons in the classroom,” Mendoza said.

Using paper products is definitely more expensive, but for Geist, it’s worth it.

 “I’m very proud of it and I’m glad we could make this effort,” she said.


Some manufacturers we have seen selling other options are Bioplanet Corp in Texas for Biodegradable and Compostable trays.

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