About UsThe Full Story

Styrofoam Out of Schools (SOS) is working to achieve “zero waste” cafeterias in NYC’s public schools by first eliminating Styrofoam (polystyrene) trays; by advocating a Reduce Policy on single use disposables, packaging, and food waste; and by designing alternative messaging to promote reuse, reduction and recycling.

We are parents, designers, educators, and policy advocates, accomplishing our work through collaboration, innovative design, in-cafeteria education, and community-based advocacy.


SOS’s first major success was to achieve TRAYLESS TUESDAYS, as of mid-March, 2010, which reduced polystyrene tray by 20% citywide. We achieved this goal by working collaboratively with Department of Education (DoE ) SchoolFood  and establishing a partnership with SchoolFood and Parsons The New School. Trayless Tuesdays, diverts 2.4 million polystyrene trays per month from landfills (see the  DoE press release).

In the short time since its inception, SOS has become a hub for information, networking and action on Styrofoam trays and school cafeteria waste issues. Designers, manufacturers, school food reform nonprofits, agency personnel, policy makers, students, parents and teachers are clamoring for more support to make even minimal change towards reducing cafeteria waste and to finding healthy and sustainable alternative food service ware.

The NYC public school food program provides an ideal opportunity to increase action and awareness about the economic, ecological and health benefits of waste reduction, recycling and reuse.  By 2030, the Mayor’s target year for a 30% carbon emissions reduction, our school children will be adults, many with children of their own. Their lifelong habits regarding food and food waste are being shaped by what we teach them today.

SOS advocates and supports the piloting of alternative solutions to Styrofoam trays, assisting DoE SchoolFood to make progress towards cutting costs, lowering energy consumption, reducing green house gas emissions and preserving nature’s benefits to society.

Via sheer scale and purchasing power, SchoolFood can influence waste reduction trends in the manufacturing and government sectors, regionally and nationally, while also shifting the habits of millions to reduce the use of disposables and excess packaging. 
Who We Are

Debby Lee Cohen, co-founder and director, is an interdisciplinary, collaborative visual artist, grassroots organizer, educator and NYC public school mom. In April 2010, she received the Eco-Hero award from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Green Schools Committee for her efforts in reducing Styrofoam tray use in NYC schools .

She has designed scenery and giant puppets for theater, television, film, and events. Her credits include set designer and story advisor for the HBO Emmy and Peabody award winning animated special, Classical Baby; art director for Meredith Monk’s Ascension Variations, a site specific performance for 120 performers at The Guggenheim Museum, director/designer of a food themed children’s parade, The Democratic Banquet, in Jardin des Tuileries, Paris; and set and puppet designer for Shadow’s Child, produced by Lincoln Center with Urban Bush Women and the National Theater of Mozambique.

For eight years, she designed the giant puppets for New York’s Halloween Parade, focusing on environmental themes and organizing hundreds of volunteer puppeteers. She has designed sculptural promotional costumes for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Nantucket Nectars and packaging for salad dressings and sauces.

Grants include: The New York Foundation for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The Jim Henson Foundation. She is part-time faculty at Parsons the New School for Design and has also taught art and theater to NYC K- 8 students (residencies), teens at risk, inmates, and seniors.  www.debbyleecohen.com

Robin Perl, co-founder and web master
Web designer, NYC public school mom, and passionate advocate for the environment.

JEAN LEE, Special Advisor to the Founder of SOS since 2010, is providing expertise in strategy, operations, and building partnerships.  She is a New York City public school parent, environmental activist, and epicure with formal training as a saucier.  With nearly a decade of multi-lateral, non-profit and philanthropic sector experience, she is working to engage multi-sector stakeholders to finding innovative solutions to the issue of waste in school cafeterias.  Jean holds a Bachelor of Science, Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.  Full Profile: www.linkedin.com/in/jeanleenyc

Arline Brown, Development Advisor, is an Independent consultant aiding nonprofit organizations with special projects, event planning and execution, research, and volunteerism. Former positions include:  Director of Development, Spence-Chapin Services, 1985 to 1998; Learning Leaders Individual Giving, 2001; Asphalt Green Event Organizer 2004;  Development assistant Spence-Chapin Services Capital Campaign and event planner for Korea35Celebration, 2007-2010.

Arline served two terms as a school board member in Beachwood, Ohio; organized an international study group in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and held various community and work positions in Ohio, Easton, MD, and Baltimore, MD.

Beliefs: All children can learn and should be loved each day. Schools should be healthy and caring environments fostering good educational outcomes and bright futures for the children we entrust to them daily as they grow

Aija Suuta, design intern, is currently a student at Parsons the New School of Design. She plans to major in Illustration, doodle in fashion and experiment with animation. Working as a visual merchandiser and a professional "hang and runner" for a clothing store, Aija mostly daydreams about traveling the world. And she also recycles.

Joanne Chang, design intern

2010 Highlights

Trayless Tuesdays, initiated by SOS and implemented by DoE citywide as of March, 2010, reduces Styrofoam tray use by 20%, diverting 2.4 million Styrofoam trays per month from landfills (achieved in less than one year by partnering with directors of DoE SchoolFood and Parsons The New School—see DoE press release)

• SOS is working with DoE SchoolFood on communication initiatives to promote cafeteria waste reduction and recycling (for fall 2011)

• NY City Council Speaker Quinn’s recent FOODWORKS report, Post
Consumption goal: “Identify alternatives to polystyrene foam in city food
programs” (released November, 2011)

•  SOS catalyzed the convening of a round table meeting with the Regional
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region ll, Judith Enck, and university and government experts on solid waste, health and policy (July, 2010)

• Debby Lee Cohen, SOS director, was honored with the “Eco-Hero Award” from the United Federation of Teacher’s  (UFT) Green Schools Committee (Earth Day, 2010)

REDBOOK MAGAZINE published an article about Debby Lee Cohen and SOS, "Mom On a Mission" (August 2010), national publicity to millions on school Styrofoam tray issue,

Make Change Messaging Workshops

SOS believes that educational support, both in the classroom and cafeteria, is a key component to sustainable change. We are currently piloting cafeteria waste reduction workshops. We will soon share this curriculum as open courseware for all to use.

Make Change Messaging, Cross-disciplinary Workshop:  merging Social
Studies- Civic Responsibility with Science, Math, and The Arts, while empowering
students to be the stewards of change within their own school community; designed for
classroom and in-cafeteria curriculum  (pilot in progress with Hunter College Elementary School; “Game Design for Change” in pilot at NEST+m).

Please contact us at  info@SOSnyc.org for more information.

Our Partners

Wellness in the Schools http://www.wellnessintheschools.org/
Educating Tomorrow http://www.educatingtomorrow.org/
Earth Day NYC http://www.earthdayny.org/
Women’s City Club Of New York http://wccny.org/

Parsons The New School for Design http://www.newschool.edu/parsons/
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families   http://www.saferchemicals.org/

Brooklyn Food Coalition http://brooklynfoodcoalition.ning.com/
El Sol Brillante   http://www.evpcnyc.org/elsolsr/index.html
PS 89 Battery Park, Green Committee

Working in Collaboration

New York City Department of Education’s Office of SchoolFood

US Environmental Protection Agency Region II

National Resource defense Council (NRDC), NY Region

NYC Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio’s Office  http://pubadvocate.nyc.gov/



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Students from Debby Lee Cohen's 3D Studio, Body in Time class at Parsons the New School for Design, constructed a sculpture made from about 1,000 used trays. The dirty trays were collected (and washed) from NYC public schools including PS 41, NEST+m and PS 163. The intention of the project was to communicate the enormity of theenvironmental problem created by the use of these trays.
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