OSWEGO COUNTY - Three Oswego County school districts are doing their parts to keep plastic out of area landfills.
The Central Square, Pulaski and Altmar-Parish-Williamstown school districts have just received their shipments of biodegradable and compostable straws to use this school year instead of the regular plastic fare. The straws are made of sugar cane leaves — the same as new lunch trays the districts began using last year.
And more compostable kitchenware is in the future, said Director of Child Nutrition David Bartholomew.
“We are moving toward flatware now,” he said. “We just got the pricing for it and hopefully we’ll be doing that soon.”
Central Square had been using the trays for a while when two students at Paul V. Moore High School came to Bartholomew with an idea for their science class project.
He said students Angie Gugino and Hannah Mantor decided the focus of their science project would be the sustainability of plastic. They began at home working with their local trash hauler and found out plastic waste was a much larger problem than they had anticipated.
As both dove head-first into the world of environmental sustainability, they decided to advocate for a decrease in plastic usage and disposal.
After receiving more than 270 signatures on a petition concerning the reduction of plastic use, Gugino and Mantor reached out to Bartholomew about further decreasing the school district’s carbon footprint. In an email that also included a district survey they conducted that supported their mission, Gugino urged Bartholomew to consider the prospect of further reducing plastic waste.
“We appreciate your efforts and would like to encourage you to continue using more environmentally friendly options for single use plastics like this in our district” she said. “We would also like you to consider purchasing paper straws for the dispensers instead of plastic straws.”
Bartholomew had just attended an industry product event in Lake Placid and he reconnected with the sales representative who had helped the district transition to biodegradable and compostable lunch trays. The company had just launched a comparably priced biodegradable straw.
And flatware (spoons, forks and knives) could be following soon.
The biggest problem, though, is whether there is a place to compost the straws, trays and flatware after they are thrown away. Bartholomew said Oswego County doesn’t have a compost program, which could hamper the students and the districts of going one step further in saving the planet.
“This is a consumer driver kind of thing,” Bartholomew said, meaning there has to be enough people to provide to a composting effort for it to work. “It’s all in its infancy, but I definitely think we can do more.”
D. Mark Powell, Oswego County director of solid waste programs, said the county is looking at beginning a compost program.
It has a grant application in the works right now through the state Department of Environmental Conservation for money to do a survey on composting in the area.
“We need to see how much is out there and the best technology for doing it,” Powell said. “As soon as we find out about the grant, we can begin the survey.”
If there is a compost program, the trays, straws and eventually utensils could be composted instead of just degrading in a landfill. When composted, the compost — which also could include other items such as food stuffs and even types of wood — becomes a veritable treasure-trove of nutrients and organic matters that, when added to soil, makes the soil the perfect starting ground for planting flowers, trees or even vegetables.
Central Square, with the help of Gugino and Mantor, made the decision to switch to compostable and fully biodegradable straws in the 2019-2020 school year.
Contributing: CiTi BOCES