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Friday, January 19, 2024

FINALLY, state commits to getting Styrofoam out of RI schools

RI Dept. of Education launches $5 million “Get the Foam Out” program to help eliminate styrofoam waste in schools

EDITOR'S NOTE: Anti-styrofoam began in 1987 with the "McToxics Campaign" led by the group now known as the Center for Health and Environmental Justice. I know that campaign well since I was it's lead organizer. Schools and students were among the most enthusiastic participants. Now, almost 40 years later, Dan McKee is making a big deal out of an initiative he never seems to even know about. No Dan, you're too late to take credit.  - Will Collette

Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, Representative David Bennett, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation representatives, teachers and students from East Greenwich’s Hanaford Elementary School, and other state leaders today announced the launch of RIDE’s “Get the Foam Out” program, which will support school districts across the state in mitigating the amount of waste produced by single-use Styrofoam meal trays and reducing schools’ carbon footprint through the elimination of Styrofoam materials.  

“Environmental education is critical to ensuring all of our students are growing up in a cleaner, greener school climate,” said Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green

“I am excited to be working in conjunction with state and school leaders to make sure children and their families across the state are learning in modern and healthy classroom and community settings. Thank you to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation for their continued partnership to promote environment-friendly habits and support in helping us reduce Styrofoam use.” 

Made possible by RIDE’s School Building Authority (SBA) and in line with state, agency and legislative priorities, this new initiative will allow $5 million in grant funding to schools across Rhode Island to ensure that schools can best access and use funding to make meaningful investments for student wellbeing and the betterment of the wider school community. 

The initiative will support schools in complying with RIGL 21-27.3-2, the newly enacted Styrofoam ban which will go into effect on January 1, 2025. Further, it is in line with RIGL § 16-111- 2 which requires that educational entities conduct a school waste audit once every three years and RIGL § 16-22-35 which requires that every public elementary and middle school student receive education on litter prevention, reducing and reusing materials, and recycling awareness on an annual basis. 

“The dangers of Styrofoam are long lasting as the product breaks down and gets into our waterways, land, and air,” said Chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee David Bennett. “It poisons our fish, wildlife and eventually ourselves. The dangers and ill effects of Styrofoam outweigh its usefulness.” 

Rhode Island schools use an estimated 11.5 million single-use Styrofoam meal trays each year. When students across the state use these trays and dispose of them, it unnecessarily consumes the Central Landfill’s limited disposal capacity.  

“The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management continues to work with our state partners to promote a more sustainable Ocean State because each one of us has a role to play in preserving our planet,” said RI DEM Director Terrence Gray. “We applaud RIDE for providing the ‘Get the Foam Out’ initiative which will educate students on the importance of recycling and support schools in their transition away from the use of Styrofoam.” 

In the coming months, local education agencies (LEAs) will be encouraged to attend information sessions and apply for the “Get the Foam Out” grant initiative by April 1, 2024. After applications have been received, RIDE will award up to $75,000 to schools that have shown investments into reusable service ware and $10,000 to schools that switch to a composting program. 

LEAs will need to match awards with existing funds from their non-profit school food service accounts or other sources to maximize the effectiveness of the program for their schools, students and environment. Awards will be announced in April to align with Earth Day and Green Ribbon School announcements.  

At the event, held at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation’s Education Center, Hanaford Elementary Teacher Caitlin McDevitt shared how her students served as the inspiration for this initiative. 

Last year, Mrs. McDevitt was working with her then 5th grade class to survey the students at Hanaford on their thoughts regarding the use of foam serving trays in the cafeteria. This lesson sparked a conversation - first among the students at school, and then at home with their families. 

Eventually, this conversation trickled into the RIDE offices, where it piqued the agency’s curiosity. How many Rhode Island schools were using these trays? How big a problem was it? It turns out, use was wide-spread. Hanaford Elementary students also went on a tour of the RIRRC facilities. 

For more information on ways you and your school can mitigate school waste, RIDE has a number of resources posted on our Get the Foam Out landing page. From legislation to how-tos on recycling and more, we are ready to support LEAs in getting the foam out and ensuring a greener future for our kids.  

Further, RIRRC officials highlighted their programming in support of school waste assessments and litter prevention and recycling awareness including educational tours of their facilities. School leaders may complete a "Help Starting or Improving a Program" form on the RIRRC website to connect with RIRRC’s Special Waste Coordinator for assistance. 

A Presentation/Speakers form may also be filled out to invite one of RIRRC's Education and Outreach Facilitators to visit schools for a free in-school presentation. To get started, complete the Presentation/Speakers form on the RIRRC website. A Tours/Field Trips form may also be filled out to request a full facility tour/field trip for classes.