Press Releases

Hold the Plastic, Please: Reusable Food Tray Project Reduces Waste and Toxics

EMERYVILLE, CA – Today a coalition of groups announced a reusable food tray program at public school Anna Yates Elementary will save more than 50,000 items from landfill in one year. The program began on Aug. 19 with 150 enrolled students in the middle school cohort and will expand to the entire district of 700 students in Spring 2023. 

The project was a joint effort from organizations the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), StopWaste Advisory Group in Education (SAGE), and Plastic Free Restaurants together with the City of Emeryville, Emeryville Unified, and Ahimsa, makers of stainless steel dishes.

Reusables eliminate many of the concerns associated with single-use foodware, such as exposure to toxic chemicals like PFAS and styrene, increased waste production, and recyclability or compostability issues.

Students at the school report that the trays “feel fancy” and “are more fun to eat off of.”


“CEH finds Emery Unified’s move to stainless steel reusable trays so exciting on a number of fronts: not only are they eliminating single-use foodware and the ongoing harm associated upstream in production, in use, and downstream upon disposal of them, but they are also avoiding the use of dangerous PFAS, ‘forever chemicals’ that are linked to serious and permanent health impacts for youth. This solution gets to the heart of so many problems and teaches our children about environmental stewardship from the start.”

Sue Chiang, Director of the Food Program at CEH

“Emery students have worked tirelessly educating their peers, families, and school leaders on how to reduce single-use plastic waste in our communities. StopWaste and partners are committed to finding solutions that benefit the community and the environment. We’re excited about Emery Unified’s role as the first school district in Alameda County to transition to reusables and how it will help serve as a model for other school districts interested in realizing the health and environmental benefits of reusables in the county too.”

– Justin Lehrer, Operations Manager at StopWaste

“ is excited to add Anna Yates Elementary to the growing list of public schools nationwide that have used our donor-funded subsidies to replace single-use petroleum-based plastic with reusable food ware. To date, we have eliminated more than 7 million plastic items from the waste stream, and we look forward to more Emery Unified schools joining the movement.”

– John Charles Meyer, Executive Director, 

“The students know single-use foodware creates massive amounts of avoidable waste, depletes natural resources, pollutes the environment, and endangers human health through exposure to toxic chemicals added to foodware. Students have seen the foodware waste coming from their lunches and have wanted to take action and these reusables in their schools feel important to them.”

– Ben Schleifer, Food Program Coordinator, CEH

“Anna Yates is now serving over 100 meals a day on reusables. The school green teams will lead this spring, Emery High and the elementary students in joining the middle school, and the whole district will serve over 500 meals per day on reusables. We are proud of this initiative to invest in our community and the health of our youth.”

– Jessica Jane Robinson, School Champion

“People and the planet are connected and the lasting impact between the two will not be felt by us but rather our children. I believe the cafeteria is a perfect opportunity for adults to make the decisions that leads to positive lasting change for the future generations of kids.” 
– Dr. Mantravadi founder and CEO Ahimsa

The City is excited to support this program to reduce single-use plastics and divert waste in Emeryville schools. We applaud the transition to reusables as a key step toward achieving zero waste goals and building a healthier and more sustainable future for our youth.”

– Matt Anderson, City of Emeryville 

CEH’s Ditching Disposables toolkit helps K-12 schools transition from harmful single-use foodware to healthier options, with a long-term goal of switching to safer reusables. The toolkit includes a 12-step planning guide, lessons, cost calculators, how-to guides on collecting and reporting data, engagement strategies, and tips for each step of the process. 

To learn more about transitioning your school to reusables, contact us.