Sponsor a child

‘Children Can’t Fight Back’: US Public Schools Have Huge Plastic Waste Problem

American public schools serve lunch at nearly 30 million students every day, and many rely on polystyrene trays and other single-use plastic utensils to do so. By one measure, a single college can create more than 30,000 pounds of trash through its dining hall every year – multiply that by nearly 100,000 public schools nationwide, and the problem takes on serious proportions.

For plastic reduction advocates, large public institutions such as schools, prisons and government buildings are valuable targets for waste reduction efforts. The Washington State Department of Corrections reusable implemented in its prisons, thus avoiding the use of hundreds of thousands of plastic spoons each year, which has resulted in millions of plastic pieces disposed of in four institutions. In the case of schools, a move towards reusable cutlery and crockery not only diverts waste from landfills, but can also introduce children to the importance of conservation.

“Changing the habits and attitudes of 6-year-olds is considerably more productive and, I believe, useful than changing the containers used by adult humans who have formed their own bad habits,” says John Charles Meyer, executive director of Plastic Free Restaurants, a non-profit organization that helps restaurants and schools move away from single-use plastics.

After starting his organization to subsidize restaurants, Meyer realized that doing the same for schools was a huge opportunity. Broadening his focus allowed him to accomplish even more. “We’ve eliminated over 7 million pieces of plastic at this point,” he says, following changes at around 65 restaurants and schools.

Startups also operate in this space. Indiana-based Ahimsa, which launched in 2019, piloted a corporate sponsorship model with Cummins to subsidize the cost of switching to reusables for budget-strapped schools. Founder and CEO Manasa Mantravadi is a pediatrician, and her concern for the health risks associated with plastics led her to create a line of stainless steel tableware for children.

Results released earlier this year found microplastics in human blood in nearly 80% of those tested. Of particular concern is the use of plastic tableware in schools, according to Ahimsa, citing research from the endocrine society which shows that endocrine disruptors present in certain plastics can cause neurological disorders in children.

“Children often cannot defend themselves. If we don’t keep children in mind in everything we do at all levels, we are doing the world a disservice,” says Mantravadi.

Although consumers still make up the majority of Ahimsa’s customers, the company has worked with corporate sponsors to introduce reusable products in five school districts across the country and expects rapid growth.

“From these first orders alone, we can see that our school line will easily match and likely surpass our residential line, even next year,” Mantravadi says, noting that the average consumer will spend $150 on Ahimsa products and a school about $8,000. . “So you can be a business with a positive and lasting impact.”

A grant model

Schools that decide to go plastic-free usually need help with funding and logistics. Meyer’s organization has been able to help schools in California, Oregon and Washington switch to quality reusable items through private donations. He is particularly impressed with Ahimsa’s stainless steel trays and says they are a better option for schools than reusable plastic trays.

“Reusable plastics also release chemicals and toxins, especially when put through industrial dishwashers at high temperatures,” Meyer says.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle for some schools embracing reusable items. Meyer points out that in some cases, switching to reuse means additional labor, more inventory space, and reconfiguring the kitchen layout.

“A lot of people just don’t have the time or the patience for it,” he says, adding that not everyone who showed interest in a grant followed him. “The biggest obstacle is change.”

For schools that accepted funding and made the switch, there were clear rewards.

Ben Schleifer of the Center for Environmental Health led the process of switching to reusable items in schools in Emeryville, Calif., a town between Oakland and Berkeley in the Bay Area. This year, students in grades 6-8 at Anna Yates K-8 have been experimenting with stainless steel utensils instead of the black polypropylene spoons and forks that the school used for over a decade.

“Students embraced the new crockery on the second day of school and have loved it ever since,” says Schleifer. “More students ate meals at school, and students said the utensils and platters were ‘chic’ and they enjoyed a more authentic dining experience.”

There are already plans to expand the program. “In the spring of 2023, we hope to enroll Anna Yates Elementary and also Emery High,” says Schleifer. This will impact around 500 school meals per day.

Schleifer points out that while reusable items can last for years before needing to be replaced, single-use catering items in school cafeterias are typically used for only 20 minuteseven though they take much longer to manufacture and ship.

corporate sponsorship

Corporate sponsorships can also help accelerate this type of change. When Mantravadi contacted local business sustainability leaders, Cummins saw it as a way to reduce waste in his home country; he worked with Ahimsa to sponsor a charter school district in nearby Indianapolis.

“At Cummins, we are committed to improving the communities where we live and work,” said Zsofia Nagy, global head of emissions compliance and environmental sustainability at Cummins. “We realized this would overlap all of our focus areas, so it was not a difficult decision to support this initiative.”

The initiative reached 1,250 students in three schools. Replacement trays save approximately 0.5 tonnes of plastic waste from landfill over a three-year cycle, when new trays would typically be bought back due to wear and tear.

“We hope to have a positive impact on health and well-being [of] students from marginalized communities by introducing a healthier alternative for their school cafeteria,” says Nagy.

Such initiatives offer a powerful way for companies to impact their local communities, adds Mantravadi. She likens the business model to Little League, where local businesses sponsor teams as a way to promote their businesses while investing in the community.

“My goal is to bring Ahimsa to schools, but not for schools to pay if possible,” she says.

#Children #Fight #Public #Schools #Huge #Plastic #Waste #Problem

Related Articles

Back to top button