Meals on Wheels


Castro Valley Rotary Club in California recently assisted a local nutrition program for Senior Citizens in switching from using disposable food trays to reusable onez, resulting in a huge decrease in plastic waste..and a nicer meal experience.

Every day, Spectrum Community Services provide meals to 300 Senior Citizens.  It is one of approximately 5,000 Meals on Wheels affiliates in the United States, but similar nutrition programs exist across the globe.

According to Beyond Plastics, a program of Bennington College, the initial costs to acquire reusable foodware and a dishwasher are recouped well within the first year. 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, compared to using a $.30 disposable tray for each meal. A $10 reusable tray will pay for itself after 33 uses and will last for at least four years.

According to Meals on Wheels America, affiliates served 2.4 million seniors in 2018. At an average of 261 delivery days in a year, this meant approximately 646 million meals. The number of meals has increased during and since Covid.


The waste saved is impressive:


  • 45.6 million pounds of plastic waste (based on a weight of 32g per plastic tray with film)
  • 1.1 million cubic yards of landfill space 

Clubs who would like to support their local Senior Nutrition programs can request a free manual from Beyond Plastics.  It includes practical tips – like how to prepare clients for returning trays for the first time, 4 case studies, links to a video webinar featuring Meals on Wheels America, and a page of resources and links.  

Rotary Clubs can help encourage this conversion by spreading the word and assisting financially with small grants.  Seniors get the meals and human contact they need, and the planet gets a break from the growing on-slaught of single-use plastic.

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