North Penn Enact Club discusses reducing cafeteria waste


Hannah Nguyen

Members of the Enact Club pose for a picture after their meeting with North Penn administration about reducing waste in the school cafeteria.

TOWAMENCIN- North Penn team leader Jane Macnamara, school nutrition coordinator Melissa Harding, area supervisor Carol Begley as well as facilities supervisor Tobe Hilbert and School Board President Tina Stoll met with Enact club members on Tuesday, March 5th to discuss making some changes regarding the waste at not only North Penn High School’s cafeteria but possibly for the elementary and middle schools.

Over the past few years, North Penn High School has taken the initiative to reduce the amount of waste made in the cafeteria by switching from Styrofoam to more biodegradable materials and taking unopened, leftover food to Manna on Main Street. At this point, North Penn has donated over 200 pounds of food each week. But now, administration is interested in doing more to reduce our waste.

North Penn has made some efforts to recycle, but there are many times when it tends to become a struggle. Many students and staff don’t recognize the difference between a regular trash bin versus a recycling bin which often leads to things not being recycled due to contamination.

“We just toss it, we’re never gonna go through it. There’s no time,” said facilities supervisor Tobe Hilbert.

When you walk up to throw out your trash in the cafeteria, you just see a chain of trash bins. But unlike stores like Whole Foods or H-mart, they’re not as organized because you just dump everything in one location. In those stores specifically, they have special compartments in which you put specific pieces of trash so it’s easy to sort the trash after. The whole idea is to educate people on how to correctly sort their trash and show where everything needs to go. With signs showing customers where to put their trash, it helps reduce the probability of having trash being thrown in the recycling bin when it’s not supposed to.

The suggestion brought up was to bring that idea to life at North Penn High School and to promote better chances of getting more things recycled and to teach students and staff members what is recyclable and what isn’t.

“One of the main items that I would like to address is getting that information out there to the students and to the staff on what actually goes into the recycling bin and putting them next to each other so that just because it’s right there doesn’t mean you can’t walk over to the recycling bin and put it in there,” mentioned school nutrition coordinator Melissa Harding.

“Our school cafeteria is perfect for that because you know what trash is gonna get made because you know what packaging there is for the things you’re selling so we can take a sample of every product you sell and decide whether it’s recyclable or not,” commented North Penn High School Enact advisor John Collier.

The use of plastic utensils is another issue. Though completely taking them away is easier said than done, it’s a good topic to address because of how much it costs to buy them and how much waste the school produces by using them. In the long run, it does cost less to buy silverware, but there is definitely a long list of pros and cons that come with that. The cost of hiring more people to wash the silverware is a con.

“That would be another $15,000 a year,” mentioned Harding.

Not to mention, students may also accidentally throw out the silverware. It may seem a little outrageous, but it’s pretty common as the adjustment may be a little difficult for many students.

As mentioned before, the cost to buy plastic utensils can be reduced if North Penn decides to purchase silverware but administration would have to look into buying price friendly dish soap in bulk.

“Just spending on forks a year, it’s about $2,000 and our paper plates and food boats that we are buying now is around the same amount. We do get the best pricing having such large volumes. I really want to look if we could find an environmentally safe chemical to wash with our dishwashers that we use but then also the cost of it all,” said Harding.

In a perfect world, students will use the utensils properly and put them where they belong but in reality, things happen. The replacement cost is another issue.

“We lose blue trays at a rate of 100 a year right now. Students are taking them,” area supervisor Carol Begley commented.

“Another factor is whether you want students with knives in their hands and forks for that matter and taking them out of the cafeteria,” added Harding.

“We had to stop selling carrots because kids were throwing them all over the cafeteria,” team leader Jane Macnamara mentioned.

But why is this even an issue? Could it be because we don’t educate kids early on on how to use utensils properly?

“Could that be something—this again would not be a short term thing—that we could start rolling out at the elementary level instead of the high school level where it was a part of their culture to be using forks and knives as civilized people so by the high school it wouldn’t be a sudden change and it would be like ‘no in the school cafeterias at North Penn, the culture is that you use your stuff and clean up after yourself.’ I recognize that this is easier said than done but could we explore something like that,” Enact club advisor John Collier said.

The suggestion was worth mentioning because of the quantity of students at the high school versus the amount of students in the elementary schools because it makes the process easier to implement into students’ daily lives. It was put into consideration that it could be added into the Knapp renovation.

The idea of a chipper came to the surface where paper disposables are chipped up and spit out eventually allowing it to be composted. It is expensive but worth noting.

Going back to our old days in elementary school, we were very familiar with using compartment trays. Another suggestion was to bring it back to the high school.

“I know it would be for a good cause so I would be okay with it. It’s just that I don’t know how the kids will take it. I just know that some of my friends don’t put stuff on the trays because they feel like it’s dirty,” mentioned Enact club president Dyani Clark.

Not many students have noticed but the trays at the high school are different in comparison to the elementary and middle schools. There was a time where the high school did use the trays but then decided to switch them out for the flat trays we have now due to the cheaper price.

In our efforts to send food donations to Manna on Main Street, other ideas to reduce the amount of food waste was brought to the table.

“I remember doing this in Penndale which is putting it in a clear bin and instead of giving it to Manna, they would put the separate unopened food in a bin and kids in the cafeteria would come in and get the food if they wanted it,” Clark said.

Enact club members had the opportunity to visit Gettysburg College and discovered that many college campuses were composting and felt that we could bring that to the high school.

Since there is a large amount of student and staff members at the high school, we would have a lot of compost and quite frankly we wouldn’t have much use in it since there’s nowhere for it to be put. But there is a possibility to sell it or donate it to to local farmers.

This is just the start of many conversations soon to come in regards to waste at North Penn. It’s important to mention that awareness is key in making a change for the better. The more we educate students and staff on how our waste truly affects us, the closer we become to leaving a better impact on not just our community but our planet.