Looking to end styrofoam use
GREENWICH — Styrofoam is the single biggest contribution to cafeteria waste at Eastern Middle School, according to a group of parent volunteers who are trying to persuade the Board of Education to phase out single-use trays from lunch rooms.
“I’d ask you to fund reusable wares and dishwashers in the upcoming year,” parent Julie DesChamps told the school board at a meeting Thursday. “By dedicating the necessary funds now, this board will make the necessary decision to provide environmental stewardship and provide for our students’ health.”
Greenwich public school parents and students are rallying around the mantra, “healthier options on reusable trays,” as a townwide Food Services Committee, composed of parents, school and town officials, works to improve the menu in cafeterias and explore the option of outsourcing food production.
Improving the food is a decades-old discussion and potential action item that resurfaced last fall. In response to calls from parents and the Board of Education, staff in the Food Services Department have made a number of changes, but the committee is figuring out the logistics and costs of larger-scale changes.
PTA Health and Wellness Committee co-chair Nerlyn Pierson said the momentum to make substantive changes is gaining speed.
“Any change will require unwavering commitment from the BOE and the BET,” Pierson told the school board. “Commit to make the changes necessary so all students are provided with healthy, nutritious food on nontoxic ware. This shouldn’t be a hollow commitment.”
Stephanie Chawla, the mother of a Glenville student and a physicians assistant, created a petition asking for better food and sustainable, eco-friendly food wares. Almost 600 people signed it in five days.
In February, the school board discussed taking one school off the National School Lunch Program and outsourcing food production to No Fuss Lunch, a New Jersey-based company. Board members wanted to explore offers from other companies, too, preferably closer to Greenwich.
Brigaid, a food service company that began in New London, proposed to consult with the district on ways to introduce more on-site cooking without going off the National School Lunch Plan. That would be necessary if a school were to outsource food preparation to No Fuss Lunch.
Leaders of Brigaid also proposed working with the district at a lower cost, based on the growing movement in Greenwich to change food services, school board member Laura Rabin said.
While the committee considers staying on the school lunch program or going off, and contracting with either Brigaid or No Fuss Lunch, it is also drafting a healthier menu, with help from volunteer nutritionists, the PTAC Wellness Committee and the Food Services Department, Rabin said.
“This isn’t about dollars and cents, this is a moral issue,” said Abbe Large, a member of the Food Service Committee and the Representative Town Meeting. “And with the Styrofoam, it’s becoming a legal problem.”
The call for waste reduction comes on the heels of a vote in the Environmental Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly in favor of legislation banning Styrofoam trays, which contain elements that could be harmful to students.
“Embrace volunteers … embrace change,” Large said. “We have tod do something now because this topic is affecting students every single day.”
Students have also joined the call to reduce waste.
Styrene, a common compound in food containers, takes 500 years to break down, and is one of the top 10 materials found in litter along beaches, said Lina Thakor, a Greenwich High School student and member of the Environmental Action Club.
“It deeply troubles me that Greenwich Public School uses Styrofoam,” Thakor told the school board. “Students at Greenwich Public Schools run the risk of ingesting chemicals every day, something they’re likely unaware of.”
Districts larger than Greenwich have recognized the harmful effects of Styrofoam, and have made changes, she said.
“We are a highly educated community that can afford to address issues such as this one,” she said. “Let’s be catalysts of change. I urge you to support the effort of finding an alternative.”
While it is too late for the school board to request funding for reusable trays and dishwashers for the upcoming school year, the committee has started looking into metal tray options and the cost of equipping every school with a dishwasher — a request that could go before the board as an appropriation in the future.
“We heard loud and clear about the dangers of Styrofoam,” Rabin said.
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