Sofia Leder, a freshman at Paul D. Schreiber High School...

Sofia Leder, a freshman at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, is part of a group that has pushed for reducing plastics in the school district's lunchrooms — including by not supplying water in plastic bottles. Credit: Port Washington School District

A group of student activists from Port Washington schools stood in front the district’s board of education last month to advocate for the removal of plastics from cafeterias — a move they said will reduce pollution and promote sustainability throughout the North Shore schools.

“We want to remove plastics from our school because they never actually fully decompose … so it’s very bad for our health,” Leila Kahi, a ninth-grader at Paul D. Schreiber High School, said at the Oct. 17 meeting.

The students, who range from middle schoolers to high schoolers, are youth activists with Transition Town Port Washington, a nonprofit focused on building a sustainable community.

Margaret Galbraith, the nonprofit's president, said it's essential the schools move toward reusable, nonplastic dishware for the health of students and the environment.

“We have to make these and many other changes to ensure that our children have a healthy and viable future," she added.

The student group's aim is to push an environmentally friendly agenda. Through presentations, conversations with school leaders and talks with other students, the group is making headway, according to district officials.

The district has introduced water that comes in cans instead of plastic bottles, has stopped using plastic wrap on fresh fruits and cookies, and also has replaced ketchup packets with pump dispensers and squeeze bottles at all seven of its schools, according to Liliana Molina, who is in charge of food services.

Molina said officials serve a total of about 2,500 meals each school day in the district.

The student activists said their goal is to one day bring back silverware in the cafeterias and eliminate all plastic, but said the changes that have been put in place are the first step toward making a difference.

Issac Graubard, a 16-year-old junior at Schreiber, said it wasn't easy at first to get the attention of school officials but things have turned around.

"It's good to see actual change in our cafeterias," he added.

The students' efforts culminated on Nov. 8 when they hosted their first “Plastic Free Lunch Day," which encouraged school staff, parents and kids across the district to ditch plastic and bring utensils from home, carry reusable water bottles and stop using condiment packets. 

The event originated in a Brooklyn elementary school and now is recognized by many schools around the country, according to Cafeteria Culture. The New York City-based nonprofit, which works with young people to reduce plastic waste and build climate-smart school communities, introduced the initiative.

Cafeteria Culture estimates 7 billion meals are served annually in school lunchrooms, many with single-use plastic products.

While Port Washington school administrators said they support the student activists' plastic-free effort, they acknowledged that some challenges would come with such a change.

Port Washington schools Superintendent Michael Hynes said while the district will "start moving forward" with the initiative, it has to be done in coordination with a lot of different school departments. He said one of the biggest factors influencing the decision to go plastic free is cost.

He said the district would have to budget for expenses associated with changes such as buying silverware or dishwashers for school cafeterias.

Hynes noted school officials would have to “beta test” changes at “at least one site,” before making districtwide changes. 

“This is a good first step … but there would have to be a real multiyear plan,” the superintendent added.

A group of student activists from Port Washington schools stood in front the district’s board of education last month to advocate for the removal of plastics from cafeterias — a move they said will reduce pollution and promote sustainability throughout the North Shore schools.

“We want to remove plastics from our school because they never actually fully decompose … so it’s very bad for our health,” Leila Kahi, a ninth-grader at Paul D. Schreiber High School, said at the Oct. 17 meeting.

The students, who range from middle schoolers to high schoolers, are youth activists with Transition Town Port Washington, a nonprofit focused on building a sustainable community.

Margaret Galbraith, the nonprofit's president, said it's essential the schools move toward reusable, nonplastic dishware for the health of students and the environment.

“We have to make these and many other changes to ensure that our children have a healthy and viable future," she added.

The student group's aim is to push an environmentally friendly agenda. Through presentations, conversations with school leaders and talks with other students, the group is making headway, according to district officials.

The district has introduced water that comes in cans instead of plastic bottles, has stopped using plastic wrap on fresh fruits and cookies, and also has replaced ketchup packets with pump dispensers and squeeze bottles at all seven of its schools, according to Liliana Molina, who is in charge of food services.

Molina said officials serve a total of about 2,500 meals each school day in the district.

The student activists said their goal is to one day bring back silverware in the cafeterias and eliminate all plastic, but said the changes that have been put in place are the first step toward making a difference.

Issac Graubard, a 16-year-old junior at Schreiber, said it wasn't easy at first to get the attention of school officials but things have turned around.

"It's good to see actual change in our cafeterias," he added.

The students' efforts culminated on Nov. 8 when they hosted their first “Plastic Free Lunch Day," which encouraged school staff, parents and kids across the district to ditch plastic and bring utensils from home, carry reusable water bottles and stop using condiment packets. 

Transition Town Port Washington student participants, from left: Sofia Leder,...

Transition Town Port Washington student participants, from left: Sofia Leder, Brady Bailly, Isaac Graubard, Megan Zhou and Leila Kahi, with Margaret Galbraith, the nonprofit's president. Credit: Port Washington School District

The event originated in a Brooklyn elementary school and now is recognized by many schools around the country, according to Cafeteria Culture. The New York City-based nonprofit, which works with young people to reduce plastic waste and build climate-smart school communities, introduced the initiative.

Cafeteria Culture estimates 7 billion meals are served annually in school lunchrooms, many with single-use plastic products.

While Port Washington school administrators said they support the student activists' plastic-free effort, they acknowledged that some challenges would come with such a change.

Port Washington schools Superintendent Michael Hynes said while the district will "start moving forward" with the initiative, it has to be done in coordination with a lot of different school departments. He said one of the biggest factors influencing the decision to go plastic free is cost.

He said the district would have to budget for expenses associated with changes such as buying silverware or dishwashers for school cafeterias.

Hynes noted school officials would have to “beta test” changes at “at least one site,” before making districtwide changes. 

“This is a good first step … but there would have to be a real multiyear plan,” the superintendent added.

Saying no to plastics in Port

  • A student activist group in Port Washington is working to eliminate plastics in district lunchrooms.
  • This month they hosted "Plastic Free Lunch Day" across the district.
  • The school superintendent said the district will explore making more changes, including what the cost factor would be.
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