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It all began with a spark of interest in January 2019.

Fast forward to the start of the 2019 school year — Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) accomplished the incredible feat of phasing out seven single-use foodware items used for breakfast and lunch across all 12 of their elementary schools, serving an upwards of 3,400 students. But it wasn’t free. The purchase of reusable baskets, stainless steel sporks, durable clamshells, plus a few other infrastructure updates cost the district $22,831. The District also hired two new part-time employees — a dishwasher and a van driver — at an annual cost of $27,000. Even with the initial investment of $49,831 to set up and maintain the new reusable food ware operation, Palo Alto Unified School District still earned an impressive savings of $25,000 per year, after an average five-month payback period.

This effort was made possible by a vigorous team from members of the Board, administrators, teachers, food service staff, and the students. Palo Alto Unified partnered with Clean Water Fund’s ReThink Disposable program to quantify the impact of their upstream source reduction pilot project to transition disposable to reusable foodware at 12 elementary schools over the 2019-2020 school year. The pilot was successful. It proves that the cost of maintaining a food system in schools that relies on daily use and disposal of foodware items is more expensive than developing and deploying a reusable foodware operation, even when accounting for the setup and ongoing costs (reusable product ware and reusable collection stations, and additional labor and washing costs).

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