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While serving hundreds of starving, restless teenagers is likely far from easy, the school has a significant waste issue. Although High School 101 students have picked up the recycling for classrooms, the waste accumulating in the Commons at lunch continues to pose problems.

Out of the 1,813 students at Nation Ford, more than half of the school’s students buy meals throughout the school day, as documented by the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2021-2022 school year.

Fort Mill School District currently orders their lunch supplies from Gordon Foods, though the styrofoam lunch trays are distributed by Pactiv. 

The black trays come in boxes of 500, with the school ordering between eight and 10 boxes per week (that’s approximately 4,500 trays per week). 

Most foam food trays are made from polystyrene, a polymer in which the World Health Organization recognizes as a carcinogen, and they cannot be recycled. 

Even if recycling was possible, the absence of recycling bins in the Commons precludes the possibility, meaning thousands of trays per week end up at the York County Landfill. 

To put that in perspective, the average school year lasts 36 weeks. If Nation Ford uses nine boxes per week that’s 112,500 lunch trays each year. If each tray were laid side-by-side, they would span nearly 27 miles. 

While the black lunch trays currently in use are convenient, they are in no way sustainable, not to mention they are flimsy and break easily. 

As an alternative, Pactiv offers a few more sustainable, choices such as the near-identical Compostable Molded Fiber tray. In fact, the school district did use compostable trays for part of one school year, but discontinued the practice. 

Of course, the district could return to using plastic, reusable lunch trays. However, some rearranging of the cafeteria would need to be done to equip an area for trays to be dropped off and washed. There would also be a rise in labor costs as the food service team would need to be staffed with a full-time dishwasher. 

Perhaps the most prominent issue with Nation Ford’s lunches is the lack of recycling. Due to excessively long lines during students’ lunch periods, many resort to vending machines for a quick bite to eat. Every beverage bought is tossed in the trash when empty because there is no way for students to recycle. Introducing a few recycling bins to the cafeteria would cut down on the school’s amount of waste. 

If state-supported colleges and universities are required by law (S.C. Solid Waste Policy and Management Act of 1991) to report annual recycling, then shouldn’t high schools do the same? 

Ultimately, the school must choose between convenience and cost-effectiveness or the environmental impact they’re making on Fort Mill. 

While this issue may be easily disregarded, it sets a harmful precedent for the generation of students the schools are educating.-RD


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