PEI

Plastic dishes, cutlery to be phased out of new P.E.I. school lunch program

Lunch is being delivered in plastic containers, with plastic cutlery, in P.E.I.'s new school lunch program, but the education minister says he hopes to see that change.

MLA Karla Bernard raises concerns from parents, students about plastic waste

Education minister Brad Trivers said the school food team is aware of the concerns around the plastic packaging. (PEI's Healthy School Food Program/Facebook)

Lunch is being delivered in plastic containers, with plastic cutlery, in P.E.I.'s new school lunch program, but the education minister says he hopes to see that change.

MLA Karla Bernard wrote to the minister about the amount of plastic waste being created by the school lunch program, after hearing concerns from parents and students. 

MLA Karla Bernard wrote to the education minister about the amount of plastic waste being created by the school lunch program, after hearing concerns from parents and students. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

"Nine times out of 10, it's parents who are kind of reacting to how upset their children are about all of this plastic that's coming from the lunch program," said Bernard, the Green MLA for Charlottetown-Victoria Park.

"If you're someone who orders meals every day, five days a week, you're going to have a huge collection of these things." 

'Very shocked'

The majority of the meals in the school lunch program are being provided by 14 vendors across the Island.

Most of them are sending out their meals in black plastic dishes, with clear plastic tops, accompanied by plastic cutlery. 

Most of the meals are being packaged in black plastic dishes, with clear plastic tops, accompanied by plastic cutlery. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"I was very shocked to hear that it was plastic cutlery that they were using. We can't boast about having a plastic bag ban over here and then be using plastic cutlery on a daily basis," Bernard said. 

"If you think about just the sheer numbers of the amounts of meals that are going out, and every single meal being served with that, that is a really easy problem to solve and using plastic cutlery should not even be an option."

The majority of the meals in the school lunch program are being provided by 14 vendors across the Island. (P.E.I.'s Healthy School Food Program/Facebook)

Bernard said she's also hearing from parents who are worried about the volume of plastic waste being created, especially for families with multiple children enrolled in the lunch program.

"I think that this is a really huge opportunity to empower our students and ask them for some answers, what, how they see this moving forward," Bernard said.

Valid concerns

Education minister Brad Trivers said the school food team is aware of the concerns around the plastic packaging. 

"I think it's a very valid concern, I know I'm environmentally conscious myself," Trivers said.

"I was the minister of the environment when we brought in the Plastic Bag Reduction Act."

Trivers said there are reasons why the school lunch program went with the plastic trays, mainly because of logistics. (PEI's Healthy School Food Program/Facebook)

Trivers said there are reasons why the school lunch program went with the plastic trays, mainly because of logistics.

"When you have a vendor, they are typically serving multiple schools and so they have to prepare the food, package it and then deliver it and it's got to be delivered hot," Trivers said. 

"Then if they were to reuse the packaging, they would have to go back to the school, collect it, wash it, and then reuse it. That second step of going back to the schools again was tough for them to do logistically and costly."

Asking for ideas

Trivers said he has heard of teachers and families who are washing and reusing the plastic dishes.

But he said, ultimately, he would like the program using reusable containers, something they are doing with a pilot program at Kinkora High School.  

Trivers said he is also going to contact student councils for their ideas.

The Kinkora pilot program is using reusable containers that are collected, washed and reused. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"One of the things that we're looking at doing, too, for the short term at least, is asking students who want to to bring their own cutlery," Trivers said.

"Then they can bring stainless steel cutlery if they want and they can wash it and we don't have to worry about that process of collecting it and washing it and sending it back to the vendors."

They use stainless steel cutlery for the lunch program at Kinkora High School. The minister said he hopes Island students will start bringing their own cutlery to use at school. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Trivers said his goal is to reduce the plastic waste as much as possible, but it will take time. 

"I would love to see the plastic cutlery eliminated entirely — so would the entire school food team — and that's what we're working toward,"Trivers said. 

"It's a brand new program and there's lots of challenges."

"As minister, I said, I want to make sure that we meet our number one goal, which is to make sure healthy school food is available to those who need it the most starting in September and that's what they did."

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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