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Mercer Elementary to Pilot the Use of Compostable Lunch Trays

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Mercer Elementary to Pilot the Use of Compostable Lunch Trays

Feb 13, 2024
Mercer students pose for a group photo with a teacher
Erinn Cox and students who worked on the project

Mercer Elementary School will pilot the use of compostable lunch trays in the 2024-2025 school year, switching away from styrofoam trays. Last semester, Mercer third grade teacher Erinn Cox led the sustainability project that proposed the switch. The styrofoam trays that Mercer currently uses cost approximately 6 cents per tray and the compostable versions cost about 10 cents per tray. To bridge the gap in cost, Cox worked with the Forest Hills Foundation for Education to establish the sustainability project as one of the Foundation’s “Fund-A-Need” projects. The funding provided by FHFE will go toward testing the compostable trays at Mercer for the 2024-2025 school year. 

Erinn Cox says that the initiative to switch from styrofoam to compostable trays was inspired by students and their science curriculum. The state of Ohio requires science classes to teach about renewable and nonrenewable resources. With lessons like this, students were inspired to explore sustainability initiatives in their school.

Photo of post-it notes on whiteboard for student research
Student research notes

“I think it is important to provide students with real problems and give them an opportunity to make a difference, especially when it connects to standards we are teaching them throughout their educational journey in our district,” said Cox. “This type of project motivates students to dig deeper and make a difference.”

While the idea for this initiative started with a smaller group of students, many others were inspired to get involved. Some sixth grade students have been conducting research, writing papers and making the connection between renewable resources and applying the Ohio standards to their lives. 

“The best part is the ability to work across grade levels. Students begin to think about renewable resources in third grade, but thanks to sixth grade teachers Stacey Reeder and Meghan Basile, we were able to collaborate and have the sixth grade students drive the research and create the work that led to the change,” said Cox. 

Photo of the compostable trays on the lunch serving station
Compostable lunch trays Mercer will pilot next school year

The compostable trays that Mercer will test run next year are produced domestically by Huhtamaki in Batavia, Ohio. They are made from pre-consumer recycled materials that are scrapped from Huhtamaki’s other products, such as cups and plates. Cox worked closely with Tia Straus, FHSD Food Service Director, to find the right alternative to styrofoam trays that would implement well into the district’s food operations while supporting their eco-friendly goals. 

“We are so excited that the Mercer Elementary School staff and students made a difference in their world by taking their learning from the science standards and advocating for change,” said Mercer Principal Jodi Davidson. “The students want to make a difference in their world by protecting it and not destroying it. The trays will allow for the waste to be biodegradable and produce less landfill waste.”

The compostable lunch tray pilot will begin at Mercer in the 2024-2025 school year.

Graphic that says "this program is sponsored by the Forest Hills Foundation for Education"
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