Right now, meals at many of the cafeterias within the Anchorage School District are pre-made and served in plastic or paper disposal trays. But that's about to change.

"This is very waste intensive. We don't reuse these black plastic trays they're a one time service only," ASD Senior Director of Student Nutrition Andy Mergens said.

According to Megens, disposable plastic trays cost the district about 10 cents each. With thousands of meals being made every day within the district, that equates to a lot of money going in the trash.

After talking with a friend who works in a school district out of state, a new plan to replace the disposable plastic trays with reusable ones was born — helping the school save money and reduce waste.

In 2018, ASD started a pilot project with the reusable trays at Service High School. The early reports, according to Mergens, are staggering. 

"From the pilot program that we started at Service, and that we've continued this year, we're seeing about a 40% to 50% reduction in the amount of wasted food that goes in the trash," he said.

The program was so successful that it was extended to six more schools this year. 

"It was a quick change," Dimond High School Cafeteria Manager Asvasija Sdrezoski said. "It is actually a change for [the] better."

Clean up time, which includes washing the reusable trays, takes a little longer. Sdrezoski says it's worth the time to reduce waste and put a better product in front of the students.

"Yes, more choices," Sdrezoski said. "They don't have to take some items that we used to put in the plastic trays, so now they have the option to decline and take only the items they actually like."

Mergens expects all 18 ASD high schools and middle schools to be set up with the new program next year, but the tricky part is getting the elementary schools on board.

Many elementary schools serve out of small spaces because the disposable plastic tray program has been going on for so long. Constructing areas to fit washing machines and drying racks for the new program could become costly, but Mergens feels it will pay for itself over time.

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