School Foods Directors Discuss Plastic Reduction Measures

April 11 , 4:00 pm 5:00 pm EDT

Calling all School Food Directors! Nationwide, school cafeterias use billions of single-use plastics each year. School Food Directors are perfectly placed to end this expensive, wasteful practice and open major institutional pathways to healthier and more sustainable alternatives.

Please join Dr. Katie Wilson, Executive Director, Urban School Food Alliance (USFA) & Johannes van der Pool, Child Nutrition Services Director, Fremont Unified School District (California), to learn how school food directors can tackle cafeteria plastics in packaging, foodware or both. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and Cafeteria Culture (CafCu) are thrilled to present two leaders in the growing environmental and public health movement to reduce school cafeteria plastics.

From Our Speakers:
The Urban School Food Alliance, headed by Dr. Katie Wilson and representing 18 of the nation’s largest urban school districts, uses volume buying power to push distributors and manufacturers away from plastic packaging. Dr. Wilson will provide best plastic packaging reduction practices and show how districts of any size can tackle food packaging, such as condiment packets and pre-packaged food items like fruit cups and other grab-n-go items.

Johannes van der Pool, food director for a medium-size 3500 student district, will recount the roadblocks encountered and the steps taken to move six California schools to non-plastic reusable foodware and swap out condiment packets for dispensers.

This webinar is designed for school cafeteria stakeholders interested in less expensive, healthier and environmentally preferable cafeteria options, including school food nutrition staff, district administrators, procurement, sustainability, facilities and operations staff, teachers, school green team members, students and parents.

Speakers:
Dr. Katie Wilson, Executive Director, Urban School Food Alliance
Johannes van der Pool, Director of Child Nutrition Services, Fremont Unified School District

August 15, 2023 , 12:00 pm 1:00 pm EDT

It is back-to-school season again! Thus, we find it necessary to bring awareness to all the potential environmental hazards our children could be returning to this school year. Hosting this call will be our friends at the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN), who will discuss children’s unique vulnerability to environmental hazards, identify common school hazards, and share educational and advocacy resources for improving school environmental health. They will also provide tips on how to protect children from toxics as you shop and prepare. In addition, you will also learn about the importance of environmental health in child care settings, and about helpful resources from CEHN’s Eco-Healthy Child Care® program.

Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) Members come from a wide range of sectors and are aligned in their mission to build a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on communities and ecosystems around the world. The Coalition Spotlight is our monthly blog to uplift and showcase their work, giving our readers an inside look at some of these influential change-makers. For August, we are featuring PPC Business and Organization Members with programs or products designed to prepare students, parents, guardians, and teachers to go back to school plastic-free for a healthier year ahead. 

Ahimsa

With kids in many parts of the world going back to school this month, parents and teachers are doing their best to set them up for success. When it comes to school meals, students can bring their food from home, and buy or receive from school. Unfortunately these meal options are often associated with lots of chemical-laden single-use plastic—from one-serving plastic food packaging to throwaway plastic trays. 

Children’s meals shouldn’t be filled with hazardous plastics. Ahimsa is a woman-founded and-owned company that makes sturdy, toxic-free, completely plastic-free, stainless steel foodware products for children. Not only are their dishes and meal sets safe, but they are intentionally designed to make it easy for parents to portion out healthy serving sizes, while engaging kids in a sensory mealtime experience since the dishes are made with bright colors. From sectioned “balanced bites” plates to their cafeteria line, Ahimsa products are third-party tested to ensure the highest standard of safety and effectiveness, and Ahima recently became the first MADE SAFE certified children’s foodware company. 

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi, Ahimsa’s founder, is a board-certified pediatrician, a mom of three young kids, and a passionate advocate for children’s health and environmental sustainability. She is on a mission to empower parents, guardians, and teachers with evidence-based information and to help create a safer, kinder, and healthier future for all kids. She will be moderating Plastic Pollution Coalition’s upcoming August webinar, “Going Back to School Plastic-Free”, and is currently petitioning the USDA to pressure officials from the National School Lunch Program to move away from plastic to protect the long-term health of millions of children. 

Beyond Plastics

Beyond Plastics is a U.S.-focused organization pairing the wisdom and experience of environmental policy experts with the energy and creativity of grassroots advocates to build an effective movement to end plastic pollution. Based at Bennington College, Vermont, Beyond Plastics works toward institutional, economic, legislative, and societal systemic change to prevent plastic pollution and its many harmful impacts. The organization was  founded and is led by former Regional EPA Administrator under President Obama, Judith Enck, who brings a wealth of knowledge and policy experience. 

Beyond Plastics acknowledges that ending plastic pollution requires change from everyone, from individual behavior changes to corporations taking responsibility to governments implementing effective policies. Beyond Plastics is also committed to environmental justice, supporting solutions that support communities impacted by injustice.  To support change and engage communities and individuals, Beyond Plastics holds virtual grassroots organizing trainings, provides free, public resources about issues related to plastic pollution, and rallies for passage and implementation of more effective legislation.

The organization has now grown to encompass grassroots subchapters all across the country as part of their Beyond Plastics Local Groups and Affiliates program, launched in February 2022. This July, rePurpose of Washington state became the 100th group to join the Beyond Plastics grassroots network, and groups like theirs hosted events for Plastic-Free July that called attention to the hazards of plastic and the systemic reasons for the plastic pollution crisis. In addition to their July events, the national group has recently delivered a 27,600 signature petition to the EPA, calling for a ban on toxic vinyl chloride (a chemical which fueled this year’s toxic train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio).

Find out ways you can take action in your local community and engage with Beyond Plastics, or sign up to learn about plastic pollution in Judith’s fall class—which is open to the public through September and October 2023. If you are a parent or guardian doing back-to-school shopping this month, you may also want to check out Beyond Plastics’ Plastic-Free Back To School Guide!

Earth Guardians

During the back-to-school season we want to uplift the work that youth groups are doing to address the urgent and interconnected crises of plastic pollution and climate change. Earth Guardians are a global, youth-led organization that inspires, galvanizes and trains diverse youth to be effective leaders who advocate for environmental and climate justice. They do this by using art, music, storytelling, civic engagement, legal and direct action to advance solutions to the most challenging issues we face as a global community. Earth Guardians’ core staff is 80% Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) youth, and includes Emmy Scott, Earth Guardians’ newest and youngest executive director.

Operating from a bottom-up, decentralized model of distributed leadership, Earth Guardians empowers youth-led intergenerational groups, or Crews, from around the world. These localized chapters drive initiatives in their own communities, while contributing to the global Earth Guardians movement as a whole. By offering financial and educational support, leadership trainings, and a speakers bureau, the international team supports Crews’ grassroots efforts to put power and resources directly into the hands of frontline youth activists—especially those who come from historically underserved communities worst harmed by pollution, climate change, and injustice.

One of Earth Guardians’ major projects is the Choose Action Now (CAN) Campaign, meant to encourage youth leaders around the world to host events that call attention to the urgent need for climate action, in the wake of inaction from world leaders during COP. This global day of action inspired 70 events that took place during COP 27 in November of 2022 as part of a global day of action. You can find a long list of educational resources and one-pagers from Earth Guardians with project ideas that you can launch and lead in your local community here

Wisdom Supply Co.

Back-to-school shopping can be daunting with so many school supplies typically made of or wrapped in single-use plastic. PPC Business Member Wisdom Supply Co. is a woman founded and run, certified B-Corp that is on a mission to change purchasing habits around school and office supplies, offering plastic-free, reusable, refillable, and nontoxic alternatives made from regenerative and truly recyclable materials. 

From zero-waste planners to unlacquered colored pencils, Wisdom Supply is replacing toxic products made from and wrapped in plastic. In doing so, founders Heather Itzla and Nicole Kozlowski aim to disrupt what they call the “shelf-to-shore pipeline,” referring to the amount of pollution and subsequent environmental destruction created by plastic school and office supplies. These activists-turned-businesswomen are dedicated to scaling systems that prevent plastic school supplies, like vinyl binders and plastic pens, from entering the global waste stream. They also aim to change narratives behind status quo back-to-school shopping that are wasteful, health-threatening, and unnecessary for learning. 

Heather will be discussing the importance of going back to school plastic-free, including the health implications of toxic school supplies in Plastic Pollution Coalition’s upcoming August webinar. In 2024, Wisdom Supply will be transitioning from a B-Corporation to a nonprofit organization to more effectively serve schools.

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With summer winding down in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s now back-to-school season for many. For parents and guardians, it’s an opportunity to equip your student or students with healthy plastic-free school supplies that minimize waste and maximize usefulness for the year ahead.

Back-to-school time doesn’t have to be filled with plastic wrappers, water bottles, pens, and other single-use plastics. Reusable, refillable, non-plastic school supplies like stainless steel lunch boxes and food storage containers are better for your student’s health, minimizing their exposure to the microplastic particles that all plastic shed. 

What’s more, when well cared for, these non-toxic, non-plastic materials and products will last, meaning you spend less time and money on supplies in the long run. Going plastic-free is better for the planet, too.

Read on to find our list of go-to plastic-free school supplies, plus other tips for taking the plastic out of your student’s school year:

Try These 5 Plastic-Free School Supplies

1. Stainless steel food containers

Lunchtime is a common culprit for plastic pollution in a student’s school day. If your student brings their lunch to school, there are many ways to keep the plastic out. Replace the typical plastic zip-top bag, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil with portable, sealable, stainless steel food containers from Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Members ECOLunchbox and Ahimsa. Ahimsa also sells stainless steel foodware.

2. Cotton and wool lunch bags 

Once you’ve eliminated plastic from the inside of your student’s lunchbox, it’s time to tackle the lunchbox itself. Used lunch sacks are a good option, and they are widely available at most secondhand shops. Look for plastic-free options such as old-school aluminum lunch boxes, or a lunch bag made from natural materials like this cotton and wool one from Life Without Plastic

3. Beeswax wrap 

From simply covering leftover food to folding up into a handy pouch to hold snacks, beeswax wraps, such as those made by Abeego and Khala & Co, are a useful item to have on hand during the school year. To care for beeswax wrap, simply wash off with nontoxic soap and cold water and let dry before its next use. Replace beeswax wraps when they appear worn out (they are compostable). 

4. Plastic-free school supply essentials 

Many back-to-school supply lists are unfortunately filled with plastic items (which, even worse, are often sold wrapped in plastic packaging). Shop for an excellent selection of plastic-free back-to-school essentials like notebooks, pencils, markers, papers, planners, and more from Wisdom Supply Co. 

5. Stainless steel water bottle

Studies show that there is 50% more microplastic in (plastic) bottled water than tap water. And plastic bottles—like all plastics—contain chemicals that harm human health. In addition to being healthy, plastic-free, stainless steel reusable water bottles are long-lasting, economical, and easy to use and clean. Klean Kanteen sells a wide variety of stainless steel bottles with different unique appearances to appeal to students of all ages, from toddlers to teens.

More Tips for a Plastic-Free School Year

· Shop for plastic free food 

First, consider what your kids will be eating: Try to purchase groceries in bulk that are not wrapped in plastic packaging, such as loose fruits, veggies, and nuts. Getting bulk plastic-free groceries is made simple at refill and package-free shops, which allow you to top up your own containers and bags with the food you need. If available to you, consider shopping for food at a farmers market for locally grown, unpackaged produce and goods. Or, buy a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share that will provide you with regular hauls of assorted produced and other farm-fresh foods weekly.

· Reuse what you already own

Before you head to the mall or buy back-to-school supplies online, reuse what you already own to reduce the amount of stuff you need to purchase. It can be a big moneysaver to reuse last year’s backpack if it’s in good condition, or repairable if it’s worn. Older siblings’ school supplies can sometimes serve as hand-me-downs. Three-ring binders, folders, rulers, scissors, and other similar supplies can be used for years if well cared for. 

· Buy second-hand

When clothes shopping with or for your student, consider purchasing clothes secondhand and avoid clothing made of plastic. Look for plant-based apparel by checking labels to see if clothing is made from natural fibers like cotton, hemp, linen, cork, and bamboo.

· Advocate for whole-school change

Check out resources such as our Plastic Pollution Coalition Members Cafeteria Culture, an organization educating and empowering youth to eliminate plastic from their schools; and Plastic Free Campus, which has created a step-by-step program for eliminating single-use plastics from schools. Surfers Against Sewage has also created two free accreditation programs, Plastic Free Schools and Plastic Free Communities, which are designed to lead your school or community through replacing single-use plastics with healthy, viable alternatives. 

Join Plastic Pollution Coalition and the movement to end plastic pollution; access our members, facts, solutions, and resources.

Individual change matters, but we also need wider solutions to plastic pollution. Send your student back to school plastic-free, and encourage your student’s school to go plastic-free!

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by Sandra Curtis

Have you ever thought about the waste created by school supplies?

Junked up binders? Landfill.

Spiral Bound Notebooks (spiral accompanied by all that paper)? Landfill.

Plastic Binder Dividers and Pocket Folders? Landfill.

A marker dropped on the ground and broken into teeny bits of microplastics? Those pieces may be washed down a storm drain and out to the bay.

San Francisco-based Wisdom Supply is charting a different course with school supplies by providing Zero Waste options. Each school they partner with, is able to track the TONS of plastic they are actively preventing from entering the waste stream.

The woman-owned company isn’t just paying lip-service to buzzwords like “eco, sustainable, green, and zero-waste.” According to founder Heather Itzla, it’s core to their mission to “disrupt what we call the shelf-to-shore pipeline, and replace it with systems that prevent plastic and vinyl from entering the global waste stream.”

Individuals can shop Wisdom’s Zero Waste School Supplies or the company will work directly with schools to supply whole classrooms, as well as to create school-specific Zero Waste Kits.

All of their products in the school supply assortment have been tested and vetted by students and teachers at local Bay Area schools, making these supplies a win for teachers, kids, and the planet. 

Shop the Zero Waste products here. 

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