Paul D. Schreiber High School (Photo from the Port Washington Union Free School District)

Going Plastic-Free To Promote Sustainability

On Friday, April 19, the Port Washington and North Shore school districts, with the help of community groups, participated in Plastic-Free Lunch Day. Transition Town Port Washington (TTPW) and Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor (CSHH) have collaborated this year to bring Plastic-Free Lunch Day to local schools.

While this is North Shore’s first year participating, this marks the second year for Port Washington schools to demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship and fostering eco-friendly practices within their communities.

Transition Town Port Washington originally heard of this initiative taking place in New York City by Cafeteria Culture. Transition Town Port Washington helped make this initiative possible in the Port Washington Schools in the fall of last year. The goal of Plastic-Free Lunch Day is to not only go plastic-free for one whole day, but to spread awareness of the harm single-use plastics have on environment and health.

“I think about three years ago we saw micro-plastic madness. And so we were working for a long time to get the schools to reduce plastics in the cafeterias,” said Margaret Galbraith, president of Transition Town Port Washington. “And then last fall, when Aramark (food service provider) came in, we were able to start to do plastic-free lunch day, but also they have reduced substantially the plastics already in the cafeterias.”

After hearing about the mission and seeing the success of the initiative, Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor reached out to Transition Town Port Washington to collaborate and bring the program to the North Shore School District.

According to a press release from Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, Chris Zublionis, superintendent of the North Shore School District said, “We are excited to join hands with the Port Washington School District and participate in Plastic-Free Lunch Day for the first time this year. It’s an opportunity for us to educate our students about the importance of reducing plastic waste. We are grateful to the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor and their Junior Ambassadors for bringing us this initiative. This is a powerful example of how service to our community is often the best form of authentic learning. Our food service director, Alan Levin, continues to find ways to innovate and adjust to the changing needs of our Viking community.”

The Plastic-Free Lunch Day initiative has been embraced by the food service directors of both districts, and special menus have been planned to significantly reduce plastic usage.

While working on implementing Plastic-Free Lunch Day, Transition Town Port Washington promoted the day to the students to encourage students that bring lunch from home to be more conscious of the packaging their food is in. So instead of packing your lunch in a throw-away plastic bag, bring in a reusable lunch box. Or instead of wrapping your sandwich in cellophane, bring it in a reusable Tupperware.

In addition to going completely plastic-free on Friday, April 19, the food service companies have worked to make everyday lunches at the schools a bit less reliant on single-use plastics.

“From my understanding, from talking to them, they have reduced single-use plastics by putting certain things behind a display. Things like bagels and cream cheese, which used to be wrapped in plastic, are now behind the display,” said Galbraith. “Certain things like yogurt parfaits and sandwiches are in biodegradable plastic. So even though it looks like plastic, they’re moving towards more biodegradable plastic, which is problematic in and of itself and we want to get rid of all of that. However, it’s definitely better.”

In addition, Transition Town Port Washington has encouraged things such as using dispensers for utensils so students can choose which utensils they need instead of automatically getting a package of three that they might not use and throw away.
“Anytime you get away from single serve, you’re greatly reducing the amount of plastic,” said Galbraith.

According to Transition Town Port Washington, the schools’ educators and students have welcomed the opportunity to bring greater awareness about the perils of plastic pollution.

The Port Washington School District is “thrilled to continue this important work, taking actions to keep our children healthy and maintain a focus on the environment,” said Dr. Michael Hynes, superintendent of Port Washington School District. He added, “The lessons learned by our students will serve our local community and the world at large. We remain grateful for our partners, and to Aramark [food-service provider] for their willingness to join us.”

“Given the tremendous pollution plastics create and the growing evidence of its ill effects on human health and the environment, we commend the Port Washington Union Free Public School District for phasing out single-use plastics in our children’s cafeterias,” said Galbraith. “And we applaud our TTPW Youth Activists for their successful three-year effort to educate our school community about the health and environmental impact of single-use plastics on our population.”

Galbraith shared that TTPW has been working with a group of high school and middle school students to spread awareness of the dangers of plastics. Last spring, around Earth Day, TTPW Youth Activists went to all of the elementary schools to do presentations about plastics and how to reduce them in your every day life.

“We’ve been to numerous school board meetings asking for the reduction of plastic,” said Galbraith. “One thing we want to see in the near future is non-plastic reusable dishware and dishwashers.”

“The school is working with us right now, so we’re trying to see how we can support them, but we’re trying to raise awareness. There’s been more and more information about the health effects of plastic,” said Galbraith. “They’re relating plastics to Parkinson’s [disease] and heart and vascular disease. It’s terrible for the environment, but we don’t want our kids eating and drinking from these things.”

Plastic-Free Lunch Day is a reminder of the responsibility we share in safeguarding our planet for future generations,” said CSHH in their press release. “By creating awareness about the prevalence of plastic waste, the North Shore and Port Washington school districts are taking proactive steps toward creating a greener and more sustainable future.”

For more information about Transition Town Port Washington, visit For more information about the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, visit

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