End Plastics

Public School Reliance on Plastic Harms Student’s Health and the Environment

Public schools in the United States produce over 14,500 tons of waste every day. Each student using a disposable lunch produces roughly 67 pounds of waste during a nine-month school year, mostly consisting of plastic utensils, straws, and bags. Not only does the heavy reliance on single-use plastics by U.S. school systems show an irresponsible disregard for the negative long-term health implications these products have on our nation’s children and the environment, but it also causes financial drawbacks to keep up with proper waste management.

Styrene is widely used to make plastics and rubber, which are used to manufacture various products, including food containers and lunch bags. The National Toxicology Program listed styrene as a carcinogen known to cause human cancer. Styrene is prone to leach into hot foods, potentially causing severe harm to all students who ingest anything held in these products. This dangerous exposure to chemicals jeopardizes students’ health, discrediting public schools’ profit-driven motives to continue with single-use plastics. 

On top of serious health repercussions, plastic usage at public schools negatively impacts school finances and budgeting because more and more resources are needed to handle the accumulation of plastic waste. For example, the County Solid Waste Bureau (SWB) concluded Arlington Public Schools’ recycling rate is estimated to be as low as 15% as they rely heavily on trash disposals to deal with their plastic waste. 

Adopting waste-free practices will reduce energy consumption, trash generation, and waste removal costs while protecting children from toxin exposure. Recycling may even allow public schools to see significant savings in trash disposal costs, as recycling plastics is approximately 36% cheaper than waste collection. 

Baltimore City public schools have constructively modified mealtime practices by serving lunches on compostable trays instead of Styrofoam products. Proactively implementing these materials, along with pushing for waste-free lunches with reusable gear, schools can protect the safety of our children and the environment by diminishing plastic use.

The time has come for more public schools to follow in the footsteps of Baltimore City. School systems must acknowledge the detrimental consequences of single-use plastics and seek effective alternatives to end the destructive cycle. Exercising eco-friendly approaches like initiating waste reduction programs or conducting a waste audit helps to decrease trash disposal costs and effectively utilize natural resources. 

EARTHDAY.ORG’s End Plastic Pollution campaign informs people about the damaging consequences of unrecycled single-use plastic, encouraging everyone to join the fight against this environmental crisis. Public schools and parents can use our plastic calculator to estimate the number of plastic products they use and dispose of annually. American public schools should reconsider their recycling habits and join the campaign efforts to protect children’s health, ultimately leading to the gradual elimination of plastic pollution.