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Thanks to Student Activism, Los Angeles Schools Have Banned Styrofoam

Enterprising kids at King Middle School in Los Angeles got the entire school district to switch to biodegradable trays.

Thanks to some vigorous student activism, the era of ubiquitous Styrofoam in the Los Angeles Unified School District is over. The decision makes LAUSD the first school district in the nation to issue such a ban.

Two and a half years ago students in the Environmental Studies Magnet program at Thomas Starr King Middle School in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles were assigned a project which required them to carry around their own trash for a week. Students saw first-hand how the majority of their trash was single-use disposable plastics, and one of the major sources was the polystyrene—commonly known as Styrofoam—trays from the cafeteria. A trip to a local recycling facility taught them that the trays aren't being recycled—recyclers won't accept Styrofoam that's not clean.

The students counted the number of Styrofoam trays that they use at lunchtime—and which end up in landfills—in a single day at the school. They ended up creating a 30-foot long "Styrofoam monster" sculpture (you can see it in the picture above) out of the nearly 1,500 trays used in that single day. The amount of Styrofoam being used was so shocking to the students that they began writing letters to the district leadership and school board members asking that Styrofoam be banned across the 900 schools in the district, and they got their parents and local community members involved.

At a press conference held on Thursday at King, LAUSD Superintendent Dr. John Deasy applauded the students for speaking out and said that he is "incredibly proud" of their launching their successful program against Styrofoam. It's a reminder, said Deasy, that leadership doesn't just come from adults, it comes from youth, too. He then issued a challenge to the leaders of other districts across the country to follow LAUSD's lead. Indeed, Deasy has put banning Styrofoam in all schools on the agenda of a national meeting of superintendents to be held later this year.

City councilmember Paul Koretz, who has been instrumental in the ban of plastic bags in Los Angeles, said the students, staff, and parents at King who banded together against Styrofoam are a real example of citizens using their power to create change. Koretz also encouraged community members to support SB-568, a bill which would ban Styrofoam food containers across California.

The Styrofoam trays have been replaced with biodegradable pressed paper and microfiber trays, but the goal of the students and community at King is to instead have a reusable tray. The hangup is that the campus doesn't have a dishwasher to wash and sterilize the trays after they're used. In the meantime, the school's students are continuing their environmental activism and tackling the amount of food wasted on campus.

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