On Design, Trayless Tuesdays, and Zero Waste Action 

I am a multi-disciplinary artist, painting, designing scenery, giant puppets, and animation for performance, parades, film, and television. I have art directed and consulted for HBO Emmy Award winning specials, designed giant puppets for NYC’s Halloween Parade, co-created a parade with 500 mostly immigrant children in Jardin des Tuileries - Paris, and art directed a site-specific performance for 120 performers at the Guggenheim (Meredith Monk). I taught design to freshman at Parsons and art to inmates, teens at risk, seniors and public school students.

 

In 2009,, I took my kids to a Climate Change exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. After racing through the exhibit, my 7-year old stopped, mesmerized, contemplating a diorama of a polar bear standing atop a pile of trash, including a styrofoam lunch tray. She turned to me and said,  “I'm not eating school lunch anymore so I can save the polar bears."

I had no idea that schools served hot school food directly on styrofoam and that NYC had thrown “away” 3 BILLION toxic and polluting trays over the past 20 years.

 

My Parsons 3D Design class built a sculptural installation with 1,000 used styrofoam trays. Pulling 1,000 styrene foam trays out of trash bins was my introduction to school cafeteria garbage. I was shocked and captivated. 

I decided to apply my design and collaboration skills towards eliminating the 850,000 toxic and polluting styrene foam trays used per day in NYC schools, a goal which is very soon to be realized!

 

With no funding, I co-founded Styrofoam Out of Schools with a group of passionate parents and designers.

 

Within one-year, we catalyzed the launch of TRAYLESS TUESDAYS throughout all 1700 NYC public schools by creating an innovative partnership with School Food and Parsons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since then, 80 MILLION styrene foam trays have been eliminated from school lunches, incinerators, and landfills at no additional cost to the city.

 

The organiztion is now called Cafeteria Culture. As the director, I have been working collabortaively with people across NYC, building strategic coalitions and providing the perseverance and creative problem solving that resulted in the City's 2013 decision to completely eliminate styrene foam trays from all NYC schools.

 

The City’s agreement to co-purchase compostable plates with the 5 other largest U.S. school districts eliminates

1/2 a BILLION styrene foam trays used per year in schools across the US!

 

In December 2013, NY City Council voted unanimously to ban styrene foam citywide!

Cafeteria Culture was was critical in getting this landmark bill passed. We took the lead in forntline grassroots lobbying, collaborating with 15 other nonprofits and attracting the attention of media & policy makers with giant puppets and our ARTS+ACTION youth-activist.

Debby Lee Cohen  / debbyleecohen@me.com / © 2020 All Rights Reserved

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