Q: My school wants to use environmentally sound cutlery in the cafeteria. But the compostable cutlery is shipped from China, and the plastic is made nearby. Which is better for the environment?

Jeanne Leckert

A: Forget locally produced plastic and follow New Jersey’s lead down the path to greener living. The pint-size state now trails California as the biggest producer of solar energy in the country, according to The Wall Street Journal. You, too, can harness the power of compostable cutlery by turning it into nutrient-dense material that will fortify flowers, shrubs and even veggies in classroom gardens.

Environmentally sound cutlery incorporates renewable resources such as bamboo. One popular version uses polylactic acid (PLA) plastic resin derived from plants such as corn or sugarcane. But PLA requires heat and moisture to properly biodegrade — and you won’t find either in a landfill.

If you create a compost bin or bins around the school, students can watch that trash turn into treasure. To kick-start the process, check out the National Gardening Association’s Web site, which is filled with great tips and classroom projects, including garden-inspired poetry assignments. (Think of all the fun variations on “Ode to an Earthworm.”)

Also, bookmark the Gardening and Landscaping page right here on MNN, and look for advice from our friend Farmer D, who has helped Atlanta students develop their green thumbs.

In a previous column, I wrote about the mounds of cafeteria waste generated during a typical school year. From paper to food scraps, you and the students may be pleasantly surprised to see that the cutlery is just a fraction of what can be composted to help nurture a bounty of pansies, tulips or sweet potato fries … yum.

I hope you will report back with the results, along with plenty of photos.

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