Every day, the FLIK staff package countless meals in grab-and-go containers and distribute many single-use utensils, enabling students to safely attend school in person. However, this system causes a dramatic increase in garbage, raising sustainability concerns within the community.
With the additional containers and packaging, Director of Dining Service Brenda Cohn estimated that there has been a 65% increase in plastic use on campus, she said.
Though an increase in plastic usage is inevitable, the school is trying to choose sustainable options where possible, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email. “This year will be a year of trade-offs,” he wrote. “But even within each trade, we’ve done our best to minimize the impact on the environment.”
Currently, there are varying levels of sustainable packaging across campus, Cohn said. For example, aluminum containers and beverage cans are 100% recyclable. Cardboard containers used at the pizzeria can also be recycled. However, containers at the salad station are plastic, because the liquid residue of dressing would not allow the containers to be recycled, even if they were cardboard.
While health concerns necessitate the use of containers, the school is trying to use sustainable containers where possible. “FLIK has been asked to purchase sustainable single-use containers and to continue to use napkins that are eco-friendly,” Kelly wrote. The school has also decided not to return to plastic water bottles, he wrote.
As the school is primarily focused on staying open safely during the pandemic, Willa Davis (10) said it is the students’ responsibility to try to be more sustainable when they can. For example, even if the school supplies single-use cutlery and canned-water, students should still bring their own reusable silverware and water bottle, she said.
While aluminum cans are better than plastic water bottles, Dalia Pustilnik (11) still encourages the usage of reusable water bottles, she said. “No waste is always better than any waste, so people should definitely try to bring reusable water bottles instead of getting water at school.”
Member of GreenHM Sabrina Freidus (12) said she is pleased that a lot of the grab-and-go containers are not plastic. “When I saw that the barbecue was using cardboard boxes and tins on the first day of school, I was so excited, because that is way better than plastic,” she said. However, Freidus wishes there were a place to wash out the tin containers, as they have to be cleaned out before they can be recycled. “If we recycle a dirty container, we could end up ruining all of the recycling, which would definitely be counterproductive,” she said.
While the waste produced from grab-and-go containers is undeniable, cutting out reusable plates and silverware does have some benefits, Kelly wrote. Without having to wash dishes and utensils, the amount of heat and water typically used to clean and sanitize dishes is exponentially lower than in previous years, he wrote.
However, the plastic cutlery also comes with its tradeoffs, Freidus said. “I totally understand why we need to have single-use plastic, but I wish that it were made out of more eco-friendly material,” she said. Another problem is that because all three utensils are packaged together, students often waste the ones that they don’t use, she said. “But, if you did individual packaging for each utensil, then you end up with more plastic from the packaging, so it’s just a difficult scenario.”
With the additional packaging, recycling is a top priority for GreenHM member Ermeen Choudhury (12), she said. “A lot of kids are just not recycling all of these packaging materials, which only adds to the waste this year,” she said. Educating the community on the proper recycling methods could serve as a solution to this problem, she said.
Oftentimes, Steve Yang (10) has difficulty determining what can be recycled and what cannot, he said. “I’ll walk up to the waste bins and hesitate, wondering which thing to put in which bin,” he said. Posting clearer signage above waste bins could be the solution, Yang said. “With better signs, we could limit the sort of things that could be recycled that end up going to the landfill.”
Choudhury wishes that there were compost bins at the school too, where students could dispose of their food before recycling their containers, she said.
Using the FlikIsDining app also decreases unnecessary waste, Cohn said. Currently, students who do not use the app might go to one station and pick up something to eat, only to find that they actually want something else from a different station, she said. If students used the app, they would only select their most favorable option, decreasing the amount of food wasted, she said.
Freidus is glad that there are fewer snacks and less candy, because it decreases the packaging for each individual item, she said.
Choudhury said though the school has supplied a variety of food options, it should source their food from local farms to provide more sustainable options. She wants the school to participate in local Misfit Markets, which are markets that buy food from farmers that would be thrown out at supermarkets because they do not look as appetizing, according to their website.
Sourcing food from local farms would also decrease carbon emissions, because the food does not have to travel as far to arrive at the school, Freidus said. However, supplying food for the whole school from local farms is most likely costly, so it might not be feasible, she said.
To make sure the school continues to move towards a sustainable future, educating the community is the most important item on the agenda, English teacher Rebecca Bahr said. “As of now, most people really don’t think about things like recycling, and educating them about it could help to really get through to them,” she said. “Ultimately, I’d like the school to bring in somebody to give us some really concrete suggestions about the things we can do right now and things we can plan to do in the future.”
Ultimately, FLIK is constantly upgrading their practices to respond to the community’s concerns, including ones over sustainability, Dean of Students Michael Dalo said. “Now that we’re actually here and we’re starting to get a sense of all that is working, we can start thinking about what needs to be tweaked,” he said. “The food situation and sustainability will definitely be one of those things.”