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School Committee Weighs Different Options to Go Green

While Burlington Public Schools is searching for a food service management company, there is also discussion on composting and waste reduction in the cafeterias. During the December 6 School Committee meeting, many members were surprised to learn the schools had been using plastic utensils and Styrofoam plates. The committee requested that the schools stop the use of said materials going forward.

At their January 10 meeting, BPS Director of Operations Bob Cunha proposed options for compostable products (trays and utensils). There were mixed emotions among the committee, including the drastic increase in cost for products, and not wanting to waste the current plastic and Styrofoam products the school still has. School Committee Chair Katherine Bond put forward the idea of non-disposable trays that could be washed and reused.

However, Cunha pointed out that some of the older school buildings no longer have such capabilities, as dishwashing facilities have since been converted to classrooms and learning spaces, while the newer buildings were designed without them. Cunha then explained that going this route would involve displacing many students and teachers, while also getting into plumbing and other extensive renovations.

Superintendent of Schools Eric Conti explained that the schools are simultaneously looking at hiring companies for food services management and composting, he believes “It’s a complicated endeavor.”

“I’ve tried to say this many years in a row,” said Conti. “The idea that we can fully fund a food service program that’s high quality and meets the needs of everybody, with compostable materials and a diverse menu, paid for solely by participation, I think it’s a fools errand. It’s just not going to happen.”

Conti then pointed out this all may lead to a price increase for lunches, which would not be ideal.

“We don’t want price to go to a point where participation drops,” said Conti. “Food costs are significantly increasing and we may need to talk about that as a whole.”

He also suggested that a potential food service company may be able to assist them with compositing and waste reduction.

Conti concluded his remarks stating, “At some point for this committee, we’re going have to stay in our operating budget that we may need to budget for supplemental funds to accomplish what everyone wants us to accomplish. I think that’s the level of conversation we’d like to have.”

Longtime School Committee Member Christine Monaco reinforced her belief that the school no longer use Styrofoam and plastic.

“I’m not so concerned with composting…I just don’t want Styrofoam,” she said.

Monaco also put forth the idea of adding in a dishwasher when designing the new Fox Hill School.

“As far as money goes,” said Monaco. “I’ve been on the School Committee a long time and since day one I’ve been saying we need to be budgeting money for the cafeteria in order to make it work well for everyone including the kids. So I have absolutely no problem with a budget that includes money for the cafeteria.”

Committee Member Melissa Massardo said, “I don’t know if jumping to compostable right now, when we don’t even have a sort of plan to do the compost makes any sense.”

She also expressed her support of moving away from the use of Styrofoam, and that her priority is the higher quality food options.

The committee reviewed the first reading of the schools’ Waste Diversion Policy, and what a potential compost system could like and cost, depending on the number of toters the schools would acquire, and how frequently they would be picked up. The discussion is expected to continue at the School Committee’s next meeting on January 24.