Eco-Friendly Meal Trays within Reach for CPS

April 21, 2014

CPS leads the way for healthy schools

In Chicago Public Schools (CPS), recent strides in nutrition and physical activity have been making schools healthier for the district’s 400,000 students. But CPS hasn’t forgotten about the planet’s health, either. Under the banner of the Urban School Food Alliance, CPS has joined forces with five other major districts — New York City, Los Angeles, Miami-Dade, Dallas, Texas, and Orlando, Fla. — to purchase environmentally friendly meal trays.

It’s an important decision by CPS — and it’s been a long time coming. For the past several years, CPS and HSC have been working together on a comprehensive plan to achieve excellence in the district’s school meal program. Last year, when CPS and HSC convened a group of parents and other school stakeholders to develop the 10-part plan, reducing food waste was identified as a priority.

“It’s just one more way that we’re looking out for the health of the next generation,” said Leslie Fowler, CPS director of nutrition support services.

Until now, cost has been a barrier to reducing waste, and that’s where the Urban Food Alliance could be a game-changer. CPS’ Styrofoam trays currently cost about four cents each. In comparison, compostable trays typically cost 14 to 16 cents each. That’s definitely not pocket change for a district facing ever-present fiscal constraints. Under the leadership of Fowler, CPS seeks to combine its purchasing power with other districts through the Urban Food Alliance — banking on economies of scale to drive down costs.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has spoken up in favor of the partnership, saying: “Chicago is leading the nation on many initiatives that support the health of our students and our residents, and this unique partnership adds to these efforts, helping to ensure that our students have healthy options in schools and learn healthy habits that will help them excel.”

Currently, Chicago is testing compostable trays in a few schools. HSC looks forward to other innovations coming from this partnership, too. CPS says that another possible item for the Urban Food Alliance’s shopping list is antibiotic-free chicken. CPS is ahead of the curve on this one, having added antibiotic-free chicken to its menu in 2011 with the help of HSC.

We’re hoping the healthy shopping list continues to grow. Every year, the Urban Food Alliance’s members procure more than $530 million in food and food service supplies, and they serve up 462 million meals. Directing some of those dollars toward greener and healthier purchases in the nation’s largest school districts makes sense for everyone, and HSC applauds CPS for leading the way.