Return to Headlines

IPS Reduces its Ecological Footprint

As a district, we use roughly 4.6 million polystyrene (Styrofoam) lunch trays annually. Just a small dent in the 31 trillion pounds of polystyrene products created globally each year  — but a dent nonetheless. With numbers this large, it’s no wonder that a group of students from Sidener Academy for High Ability Students wanted to lessen the district’s ecological footprint by finding an alternative material for their lunch trays.Just Tray No


A group of students from the robotics team at Sidener Academy took their STEM project to the next level by asking IPS leaders to consider a more environmentally-friendly practice in their day-to-day operations. With guidance from Jim Poyser of Earth Charter Indiana, these young activists made a difference in their city that will ultimately make a difference in the world.


Did you know that it takes 500 years for a polystyrene product to decompose? This material is not biodegradable. When sent to a landfill, it breaks up into small pieces that choke animals and clog their digestive systems. Not to mention the major impact that it has on our ecosystem. The United Nations Environment Program estimated that every square mile of ocean hosts over 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. As a result of these impacts, several coastal cities across the U.S. have outlawed polystyrene products completely.


Last school year, the IPS Food Services Department researched alternative products and found a reinforced cardboard tray that is popular in other large urban districts throughout the U.S.


After piloting the trays at Theodore Potter Spanish Immersion School 74 in the small hands of our first- through third-grade students, IPS leaders agreed that the sturdy but recyclable product would be the best option for our district. Although the new product will cost roughly two cents more per tray than the polystyrene option (an increase of $98,000 annually), district leaders have a positive outlook on the purchase.


“It’s money well spent to have a product that is recyclable, that is attractive and that students and adults can feel good about having in the schools because they now can use this as part of their recycling efforts,” said Steve Gudorf, IPS Foodservice operations manager.


Students of IPS can expect to see the new cardboard trays in lunchrooms across the city starting this upcoming school year! Because we have polystyrene trays left over from last year and in efforts to avoid wasting resources, high schools will continue to use the Styrofoam trays for the first two to three weeks of school. They will join the rest of the district in use of the new product following the phase out.


We couldn’t be more proud of the civic leadership that our youth displayed in this effort; they are a true inspiration!