Why Are Schools in the U.S. Choosing Styrofoam Trays and Plasticware Over Melamine?

Over the past few years, there has been a noticeable shift in the type of lunch trays and utensils used in schools across the United States. The traditional melamine trays and silverware have been largely replaced by Styrofoam trays and plasticware. This change has raised questions about the reasons behind this trend, especially considering the environmental implications of using disposable materials. This article aims to shed light on the factors that have led to this shift.

Cost Considerations

One of the primary reasons schools are opting for Styrofoam trays and plasticware over melamine is cost. Styrofoam and plastic are significantly cheaper than melamine, which can be a crucial factor for schools operating on tight budgets. The cost of purchasing, replacing, and maintaining melamine trays and silverware can add up over time, making disposable options more financially appealing.

Convenience and Efficiency

Another factor contributing to the switch is convenience. Using disposable trays and utensils eliminates the need for washing and sanitizing after each use. This not only saves time but also reduces the workload for school staff. Furthermore, it can help to streamline the lunch service, as students can quickly dispose of their trays and utensils after eating, reducing the time spent on cleanup.

Health and Safety Concerns

Health and safety concerns have also played a role in the shift towards disposable lunch materials. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have opted for disposable options to minimize the risk of virus transmission through shared utensils and trays. While this may not be a long-term factor, it has certainly contributed to the recent increase in the use of Styrofoam and plastic in schools.

Environmental Impact

Despite the apparent benefits of using Styrofoam and plastic, there are significant environmental concerns associated with these materials. Both Styrofoam and plastic are non-biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to decompose. This has led to increasing criticism of schools’ decision to use these materials, with many advocating for more sustainable alternatives.


While the shift from melamine to Styrofoam and plastic in U.S. schools can be attributed to factors such as cost, convenience, and health concerns, it is important to consider the environmental impact of this decision. As schools continue to navigate these challenges, it will be crucial to explore more sustainable options that can meet their needs without contributing to environmental degradation.