By Dickinson-Frevola

Plastic Free Day 2022: NYC schools show support for waste reduction

Green Tips | May 15, 2022

When we think about the impact of plastics on the environment, a few things probably come to mind: plastic bags drifting in the sea, animals tangled in fishing lines, microplastic particles in the soil, a water bottle that will exist on the planet longer than you will. The sheer scale of plastic pollution is almost too much to wrap our heads around, so how can we start to reduce the amount of waste we’re producing? In New York City, some organizations are beginning to work with the younger generations, connecting them with the resources they need to learn about sustainability and waste reduction. 

Cafeteria Culture, an organization that started as a grassroots project to limit styrofoam in schools, is working in partnership with the New York City Department of Education Office of Food and Nutrition Services and the Office of Sustainability to host the city’s first Plastic Free Lunch Day on Monday, May 16, 2022. 

The event was originally started by students from PS 15 in Brooklyn, who conducted surveys and gathered data on the amount of litter found in their communities in order to push for the Department of Sanitation to expand access to recycling services in the area. Through the schools’ collaboration with Cafeteria Culture, they reported having been able to reduce litter in their neighborhood by two-thirds. The class went on to testify at City Hall against plastic litter and its impact on New York’s waterways. 


Emphasizing the younger generation’s dedication to protecting the planet, the goal of the event is to create a lunch period with as few plastic items as possible, in the hopes of eventually eliminating all cafeteria single-use plastic. This means working with school staff to minimize the amount of single-use plastics being provided in the lunchroom, from utensils to wrappers to water bottles. According to Cafeteria Culture, over 750 elementary schools in New York City will be participating in the event. 

In 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that if current trends continue, the amount of plastic waste entering the world’s oceans would triple to 32 million tons per year by 2040.  This would be the equivalent of dumping 110 pounds of plastic on every meter of coastline in the entire world. 

These threats are especially poignant to the younger generations, many of whom have joined the youth climate movement to speak out against climate inaction. May 25th also marks the newest iteration of international Youth Climate Strike protests, according to reports from Fridays for Future

Looking at the numbers associated with widespread pollution and climate change, with the new reports showing that we may be entering the “now or never” territory of rising temperatures, it can be easy to become discouraged. To combat that, Cafeteria Culture outlines several reasons to participate on their website: 

  • First and foremost, the first steps towards climate action can, in turn, inspire more action, in schools or at home in students’ communities.
  • Plastic Free Lunch Day allows schools and their students to see what change can look like, so they can see how they can also help. 
  • Collective action builds community and generates a positive, inspired mentality.
  • Students can collect before and after data/photos and use them to inform and persuade, as the PS 15 students did previously. 
  • Collective action, especially that which is interactive and offers visible results, helps to bring joy and relieve climate anxiety, a trend which has already been affecting the nation’s youth populations. 

When it comes to combating climate change, waste reduction is one of the most effective ways to participate on a personal level. According to the EPA, not only does waste reduction limit greenhouse gas emissions, but it also saves energy, saves money, and takes more strain off of waste systems. 

Due to their limited political power, youth activists organize and participate in events like the Youth Climate Strike and Plastic Free Lunch Day to raise awareness about the climate crisis and show the authority figures around them that this is an issue they care deeply about. So, don’t worry, the kids are alright — and they’re fighting for their futures every day. 

The New York League of Conservation Voters encourages students and parents to get involved and see if they can organize waste reduction or climate awareness events in their communities, because every child deserves a clean, safe future, and the only way we can achieve that is through community action. 

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