May 16, 2022 was the first NY City-wide Plastic Free Lunch Day in school cafeterias.
**Started by students to reduce plastic packaging in public school cafeterias and to protect student health**
Watch our video created by Cafeteria Culture in partnership with NYC DOE Office of Food and Nutrition Services, Office of Sustainability, and Brooklyn PS 15 Patrick F. Daly students and kitchen staff!
New York, NY - On May 16, 2022, NYC public schools will participate in a Plastic Free Lunch Day (PFLD). Over 750 NYC elementary schools will have school lunch prepared without plastic on this day, providing a first glimpse of a plastic-free school cafeteria future. All schools are encouraged to join in the plastic free action. Watch this short video, created by Cafeteria Culture in partnership with NYC Department of Education (DOE), to see what the buzz is all about.
The initiative is the result of years of collaborative effort led by Cafeteria Culture, an environmental education non-profit working creatively with youth to eliminate single-use plastics from public school cafeterias, in partnership with the NYC DOE Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS) and Office of Sustainability.
Cafeteria Culture is the force behind the 2019 award-winning documentary Microplastic Madness (watch the trailer). The movie documents the first Plastic Free Lunch Day, which was spearheaded by 56 fifth graders from PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn. On that day, students counted 558 fewer plastic items and reduced total lunchtime waste by 99% (from close to 100 pounds to 1 pound). The PS 15 students, who participated in Cafeteria Culture’s US EPA funded program, determined that a NY City-wide Plastic Free Lunch Day would reduce plastic lunch waste by 1 million fewer items per day.
“Even though there’s a lot of plastic from home lunch, we can reduce it faster from school lunch because we have access to the people who make decisions for school lunch!” explained Kayden, a 4th grade student at PS/MS 188 The Island School in Manhattan, whose class conducted a cafeteria plastic survey as part of Cafeteria Culture’s school program.
Building upon the success of Cafeteria Culture’s collaborative Styrofoam Out of Schools campaign, a regular plastic-free lunch menu day is the expected next step to reduce the remaining school cafeteria plastic. It is also anticipated that the initiative will inspire school districts across the country to follow NYC’s lead, resulting in a national shift of school food service trends and manufacturing.
The US produces more plastic waste than any other country in the world and school cafeteria foodware and packaging is a major contributor. Plastic Free Lunch Day is an important step to reducing the unacceptable amounts of school cafeteria plastic, which contributes to a global micro and nano-plastic pollution crisis.
“It’s long past time to reduce climate destroying, people polluting single-use plastics and microplastics. Plastic Free Lunch Day is a game changer for New York City and the country,” said Debby Lee Cohen, Executive Director and Founder of Cafeteria Culture. “ One day of action inspires more actions. New York City can lead once again for the health of our children, frontline communities and our world.”
"I am thrilled to join Cafeteria Culture and the Department of Education in celebrating the first citywide Plastic Free Lunch Day," said New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera. "This day is not only an incredible step toward reducing our plastic and waste goals, but it is also an enormous victory for the students who pushed for climate-focused policies in their schools, including many public schools in my district that have been longtime participants in the work that led us to this day. These students are the future leaders of our City, and I am so grateful for their advocacy."
"Plastics are damaging our environment and damaging our health. Having the largest public school district in the nation offering plastic free lunches in 750 elementary schools is incredibly impressive. It reminds all of us that we have to double our efforts to reduce plastics for the sake of these precious children," said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator. “Congratulations to Cafeteria Culture for this brilliant project.”
"Environmentally-friendly habits should start young to help individuals become conscious of how their actions impact our spaces and communities,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “Thank you to Cafeteria Culture for working with our schools to establish plastic free lunch day and teaching young students how small, meaningful changes in our activities can help save our environment.”
Plastic Free Lunch Day is modeled after [Styrofoam] Trayless Tuesdays, a 2010 Cafeteria Culture/DOE one-day-per-week initiative that reduced school styrofoam tray use by 20% and led to NYC’s complete elimination of styrofoam trays from school cafeterias in 2015 and groundbreaking multi-city collaborative purchasing agreement, driving down the cost of an alternative compostable plate and eliminating a half a billion styrofoam trays per year (pre-pandemic) from landfills, incinerators and student meals across the country. The initiative also paved the way for the City’s School Organics Collection (aka, composting) pilot program and fueled the popular momentum that led to the 2019 citywide and 2022 statewide styrofoam container bans.
Removing plastics from school cafeterias protects our students from the toxins that migrate from plastic foodware and packaging into food and beverages. Plastic has become so commonplace that we don’t question its safety. But a number of alarming new studies reveal that the thousands of toxic chemicals that make up plastic readily migrate into food and beverages.
“Besides the known effects of plastics on our planet, children are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of chemicals used in plastic, particularly because of the crucial role of hormones in our bodies for so many biological functions. That’s why this Plastic Free Lunch Day is so important,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, the Jim G. Hendrick MD Professor, Director of the Division of Environmental Pediatrics and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine.
Most of the 400 million metric tons of global plastic produced each year ends up in landfills or in the environment. Plastics are burned in incinerators where they emit dioxins and other toxic gases, or they are sent to landfills where they release microplastics into our waterways and ocean, endlessly fragmenting first into microplastics then into nanoplastics–tiny particles that we inhale and ingest and that have entered our cells.
Reducing plastic use advances NY’s climate goals. If plastic were a country, it would be the world’s fifth largest emitter of climate-disrupting greenhouse gasses. Plastic begins as a fossil fuel and emits CO2 and other greenhouse gases at each step of its processing and use. Plastic even emits greenhouse gases as it ages and fragments. As the world begins to phase out fossil fuels, the petrochemical industry increasingly views plastic as its lifeline. In reckless disregard of our environment and our children’s health, industry aims to double plastic production by 2050.
DOE’s decision to hold the first ever citywide Plastic Free Lunch Day on May 16, 2022 is not only a boon for the City, but also a gift to the youngest generation.