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As part of its presentation for Santa Barbara’s Earth Day Festival, the Orfalea Foundation’s School Food Initiative (SFI) built an Abominable Trayman, composed of almost 500 Styrofoam trays used by one local school for one lunch service.

We often say there’s more to school food than what is on the tray, and part of that is the tray itself. Many schools still use Styrofoam because it costs less than other options, at least in the short term. SFI helps schools make the move to durables, including composite trays and metal utensils. Sometimes schools have to build dishwashing stations to make the transition, and SFI can help with that as well. With durable trays, cups, and utensils, schools no longer have to ship in hundreds of thousands of Styrofoam trays and plastic utensils and then send used ones to landfill. Moreover, they send taxpayer dollars to a local, human dishwasher rather than a faraway disposable goods vendor. This keeps local dollars in the community, and wastes fewer non-renewable resources.

Goleta Union School District Director of Food Services Sharon Baird provided two magnetic trash-can lids that SFI used for a Spoon Toss game (“Stick a spoon to the magnet and win a prize!”). While kids were playing, SFI explained to parents how the magnetic trash can lids catch utensils (and retainers) that might otherwise be accidentally thrown away when kids empty their trays. Little innovations like this lower the long-term costs of using durables rather than disposables.

Buying in bulk saves money and reduces waste. Buying in bulk saves money and reduces waste. A two-gallon dispenser like this eliminates 1028 quarter-ounce packets.

Another part of the School Food exhibit showed how schools and homes reduce waste by avoiding single-serving containers. For example, schools that install dispensers for condiments like mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and relish eliminate 1028 ¼ ounce packets with every two gallon refill. Santa Barbara Unified School District Director of Food Services Nancy Weiss loaned SFI a twelve gallon milk dispenser to illustrate how many milk cartons can be saved from landfill by buying milk in bulk.

Cebastian does the math! Cebastian does the math!

SFI wants every school to serve real food cooked from scratch, but also wants them to do so sustainably and economically. That’s why, in addition to kitchen grants and professional development, SFI supports school gardens, environmental stewardship education, and public policy that makes it easier to go green – on and beyond the plate.

The Abominable Trayman was one of the big hits of Santa Barbara’s Earth Day Festival, and hundreds of visitors stopped to take pictures of it. Chef Instructor Claud Mann, who conceived the Trayman and managed the School Food Initiative’s Earth Day exhibit, praises the contribution of Ojai sculptor Mark Benkert, who built the Trayman’s frame (and taught Claud how to weld in the process). SFI also thanks Art From Scrap, which loaned Claud a variety of materials necessary for the installation of the Trayman, and the student volunteers from the Orfalea Foundation’s REACH program, who not only worked in the booth all weekend, but helped Claud attach nearly 500 DIRTY trays to the frame.

The Abominable Trayman attracted a lot of attention, provided a lot of fun, and stimulated a lot of conversations about reducing waste in school food programs. The Abominable Trayman attracted a lot of attention, provided a lot of fun, and stimulated a lot of conversations about reducing waste in school food programs.

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