The school is the first in Volusia County to utilize the plant-based trays.
When lunch period ends, students at Osceola Elementary are certain of one thing: They're helping to preserve the environment, one tray at a time.
Volusia County Schools launched a pilot program on Oct. 21 at Osceola, where biodegradable trays made from vegetable oils and plants replaced plastic foam trays. The initiative also eliminated plastic straws, utensil packets and other plastic foam food containers.
Principal Lynn Bruner said she's honored and excited to be the first school in the county to utilize the new trays. The student response has been positive.
“What better time to teach [students] than here at school to help contribute to the environment and to do our part," Bruner said.
How the pilot program began
Earlier this summer, Volusia County School Board member Carl Persis met with Heather DeMeola, director of School Way Cafe at Volusia County Schools; Suzanne Scheiber, founder of Dream Green Volusia; and Dr. Ellen Asher, teacher at Old Kings Elementary School. Asher launched a biodegradable tray initiative in her Flagler County school in 2017.
Scheiber recalled that they all met in a room at the Ormond Beach Regional Public Library and discussed the tray initiative for two hours until they came up with a plan. Cost was a factor; none of them wanted to hike up school lunch prices. However, eliminating the plastic utensil packets killed two birds with one stone: It evened out the cost and got rid of more single-use plastics.
“Because what so often we found is that people had those little bags with the fork, the spoon and the napkin in cellophane, and they didn’t even open it up," Persis said.
It was important to him as the District 4 representative on the School Board that the pilot program start in Ormond Beach. Osceola Elementary, with its 389 students, was a good fit.
Volusia is following in the footsteps of school districts like Flagler and Orange, which have schools that have already converted to biodegradable trays. DeMeola was already familiar with the trays; she previously worked in the Orange County School District.
“These break down in a relatively short time to reduce the landfill trash — they go back into the environment," DeMeola said.
Scheiber said it felt "amazing" to eliminate plastic foam, especially at a school she volunteers in twice a week. Dream Green Volusia is planning to approach the Daytona Auto Mall next.
"Ultimately, I believe this is going to save the environment a lot of damage," Scheiber said.
Children: a driving force
Fifth grade student Asiri Cornegjo Happel was positive about the change. She said there is a lot of trash in the ocean.
“I think it’s good that we have them so we can save more of the animals and plants," Happel said.
Dané Hietala, a fellow fifth grader, agreed — especially when it comes to turtles. A lot of her friends have pet turtles, she said, adding that she hopes more schools switch over to biodegradable trays.
“It’s actually really exciting," Hietala said.
Ormond Beach City Commissioner Susan Persis recently led the charge for a straw ban ordinance in the city, and she said she doesn't know many people who disagree that single-use plastics are a problem. Some local restaurants have begun to give out straws on request only.
She believes children will be one of the driving forces behind protecting the environment in the future, and, these trays are a start.
"To get the schools on board will be a huge help to our environment and our county," she said.