In a word: Convincing.

That would be how to describe the presentation by the Polystyrene Alternative Citizen Committee’s to the Ellensburg School Board last week.

The group is attempting to persuade the district to discontinue the use of polystyrene (Styrofoam) trays in lunchrooms.

The committee consists of a mix of community members, district staff and students.

This is not a new request. A similar proposal was made about five years ago, but was turned down because of cost.

The primary option would be to switch to reusable trays, the would be washed each day. Most district schools have dishwashers, although one school would need an equipment update and the new grade school would have to have a dishwasher added to the project. In addition to equipment and trays, there would be labor cost, estimated about an hour to two hours a day depending on the school.

The group’s presentation included a mix of parents, staff and students speaking. The issue packed the house at the Ellensburg High School Little Theater — not a common occurrence for a school board meeting.

The only argument in favor of using polystyrene is cost. It is the cheapest option.

When tasked with coming up with options, the committee was asked to find a solution at the same cost (or with a way to cover the increased cost).

Obviously, if reusable trays were the same cost as disposable polystyrene, the district never would have switched.

The board was provided with evidence and studies into the potential adverse health effects on children on eating off polystyrene trays. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reclassified polystyrene as a probable carcinogen. According to research provided in the presentation, there is a strong possibility the students will ingest polystyrene when served hot food on the trays.

That alone is justification for stopping the use of the trays. At a time when the school district is looking to trim its budget about $250,000, cost is an issue. But a demonstrable health risk to children cannot be overlooked.

The national trend is toward banning the use of polystyrene trays. This is one instance where the district should not hesitate to get ahead of this trend.

Polystyrene trays are not a good product. All they have going for them is they appear to be cheap. But research indicates the could have a serious cost down the road in terms of health.

The community is leading the district on this issue, the board would be wise to follow.


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