Meals on Wheels programs across the U.S. provide food to about 2.4 million people age 60 and older. A new proposal from an unexpected source is calling for those meals to be served on reusable polypropylene trays.
Beyond Plastics, a nonprofit that usually opposes plastics industry initiatives and expansions, says in a new guide that food programs for seniors that embrace reusable trays will both reduce plastic waste and save money in the long run.
"Reusable polypropylene trays cost between $4.50 to $10 and up per tray," Beyond Plastics writes. "By investing in reusable trays at $10 each, a program that feeds 500 clients five meals a week can save $27,000 in packaging costs the first year, and $37,000 the second year. ... A $10 reusable tray will pay for itself after 33 uses and will last for at least four years."
Single-use trays are typically difficult — if not impossible — to recycle because of food residue. And while Beyond Plastic would prefer a nonplastic alternative, those materials simply aren't feasible.
"Meal on Wheels programs require sturdy, reusable polypropylene trays because they must be microwaveable, shatter-proof, lightweight and not hot to the touch," the group writes. "While it would be better not to use plastics, alternative materials such as stainless steel, glass and ceramic are problematic for seniors and those with disabilities."