Mansfield Public Schools has announced it will be practicing a Plastic Free Lunch Day on Wednesday, November 2. The Food Services Department and teachers have been working to collaborate on what it takes to make the cafeterias and lunches from home minimize the pervasive use of plastics.
The initiative is part of a national movement to rethink how to use washable serving materials, and move to metal and glass containers and utensils within school cafeterias. The initiative points out that, since school cafeterias serve more than 7 billion meals per year, schools can make a major influence on reducing plastic. Just reducing two pieces of plastic per school lunch each day could eliminate 10 billion pieces of plastic per school year.
Teachers Jen Zugarazo and Michelle Mather and Town Recycling Coordinator, Virginia Walton have been working with Food Services Director Maraiah Popeleski-Tilley on this initiative. The teachers traveled to Denmark this summer as Fund for Teachers Fellows to study sustainability within schools. They have organized a Grade 4 Eco-Team, for example, and those students have been assisting with promoting Plastic Free Lunch Day within the district, brainstorming tips to limit plastic at mealtime. When the new Mansfield Elementary School opens, the first net-zero public school in the state, sustainability practices will play a large part in the school culture.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many meals were packaged for grab-and-go consumption, Mansfield Schools were required to move away from some of their earth-friendly practices. All of the Mansfield Schools kitchens are still outfitted with facilities to wash trays and silverware, for example. Mrs. Popoleski-Tilley has been moving the kitchens back to more sustainable practices since joining the district in September..
“In planning for Plastic-Free Lunch Day, we have studied all of the steps and segments of the menu choices we offer students. We’re swapping out plastic baggies containing cut-up fruit like oranges for waxed paper baggies, or serving whole fruits. We’re wrapping sandwiches in paper. We are back to washing and sterilizing trays and silverware this year already,” says Popoleski-Tilley. “Plastic straws are no longer available just to take. Our staff has been creative in finding ways to avoid plastics.”
Other tips that students and food services are sharing with families is to always carry a stainless steel water bottle to avoid plastics, and to buy snacks in bulk and transport in lunch boxes in reusable containers rather than disposable packaging. Carrying meals from home in stainless “bento”-type boxes is another way to minimize using disposable plastic.