Beth Remmes, a Lilburn mother of two students at Camp Creek Elementary, is beside herself.
Day after day she knows that her children are eating out of plastic foam trays -- which are made of a consistency that does not degrade easily in the environment, taking some 500 years to wither to nothing.
-- What do you think of plastic foam trays being used to serve meals to school students? Let us know in the comment section. --
So, she decided to do something about it, and started a petition that she hopes draws the attention of school officials. There's more than 500 signatures on the Change.org petition already.
Remmes is not the first person to try kicking Styrofoam to the curb. Just this summer, the second largest school district in the country -- Los Angeles Unified School District -- finally decided to eliminate them, following a loud call for change by some middle school students and parents.
Los Angeles school officials spoke of wanting to be a leader in efforts to save the environment. And, the Lilburn mom wants Gwinnett -- the largest school district in Georgia -- to also think along those lines.
Patch tracked down Remmes and asked her a few questions about her efforts. Here's the conversation.
Patch: What prompted you to start the petition?
Remmes: My children are in second grade and fifth grade at Camp Creek Elementary. Not long after my daughter started school, they were at least recycling the trays, but when that proved to be a loss for the recycling companies, the trays all went into the trash again.
When I go to school (to) visit my children at lunch time, I leave the cafeteria feeling nauseous, with a splitting headache, because the amount of waste literally makes me sick to my stomach. It is not just me who is bothered by all of the waste, and it isn't just happening at our school.
To my knowledge, this is what it is like at all the public schools in the county. Whenever the school cafeteria comes up in discussions, one of the first things people always say is "I wish we could get rid of the Styrofoam trays."
Patch: Have you talked to Gwinnett County school officials regarding your concerns?
Remmes: I have talked with people at the school, but it seems like their hands are tied because these decisions are often made by the county. A year ago, I was able to track down the supplier and find out that they offer biodegradable and compostable options, but I am not privy to what the school currently pays for the trays, so I do not have a basis for comparison.
Ideally I would have liked to go the county with a breakdown of all of the numbers and a list of affordable solutions, but quite honestly, after chasing this issue for the last few years, I think that the time has come to ask the county to give us a report with the costs and alternatives.
Patch: Why do you suppose the use of Styrofoam trays persists?
Remmes: I'm sure the county believes that Styrofoam trays are the least expensive option. However, the initial cost does not factor in the environmental cost, health risks, or the downside of teaching our children that it is preferable to use disposables on a daily basis. I understand that the budget for schools is tight, but I would at least like to see some alternatives presented.
Also, with such a large school system, the supplier must make a substantial amount of money from the orders. They may be willing to negotiate a similar price for a less toxic alternative. Or, it may be affordable to create a job, and hire someone part-time to wash the trays. My understanding is that many of the schools already own the reusable trays.
Patch: When would you like to have the entire school district to replace what they are doing with reusable trays?
Remmes: My guess is that budgets and orders have already been planned for this school year. However, it would be great to start off fall 2013 with reusable or biodegradable trays.
Patch: If no one with decision-making power listens to this petition, will you continue your efforts?
Remmes: At the very least, I would like to see transparency in this process. I would love to have a published report available with a follow-up meeting which covers: 1. How are decisions made? 2. What is the cost? 3. What is the cost of the alternatives?
Then I would like the decision makers to be willing to engage in creative problem solving with concerned parents, teachers, faculty and students to find a better alternative. In my heart, I can't believe that this is the best we can do for our children.
(Editor's Note: If a query is answered, Patch will follow up this individual Q&A with a response from Gwinnett County Public Schools.)