SEA club and food services combat excess plastic use at WHS

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Nicolas Barbieri

A WHS student throws a plastic bottle into a trashcan

Nicolas Barbieri, Staff Writer

“There’s no plan(et) b,” states the Students for Environmental Action (SEA) page on the school website as part of their effort to raise students’ awareness of the steps they can take to care for the planet. After operating for 15 years at WHS, the SEA club continues to focus on improving environmental awareness, and one key initiative is their work to reducing the use of plastics in the school.  These efforts, however, have not yet proven fully successful given the ongoing high plastic use rate at WHS.

    When food service director at WHS Charlie Kotufo pulled a menu item sales report for Monday, 12/10, Kotufo approximated that 207 plastic bottles were used that day by students purchasing them in the WHS cafeteria.  In addition on that day far more plastic utensils were also used, as is true on any typical school day..

    In Kotufo’s short time as food service director, having assumed the position in September 2021, Kotofu has tried to instill environmental-friendly changes.

    “We currently use minimal applications of plastic in our department: water [Polar beverages] and utensils,” said Kotufo. “In the past we have made numerous attempts to replace both of those items without much success.

[For example], the water in a carton alternative is more expensive and has been claimed to ‘taste funny,’” said Kotufo. 

     In fact, problems with the eco-friendly products have been a common trend at WHS.

    “We had purchased thousands of dollars worth of real silverware to replace the plastics in all of our schools,” said Kotufu. “Within a few short years over 50% of it had either been damaged, bent beyond repair, or thrown away by students.”

     As Kotufo highlights, bringing significant change to WHS’s plastic use is difficult, especially with a limited budget. 

    “Our food service department is a self-funded business, meaning we generate our own revenue. As far as the silverware is concerned, it is a very costly initial purchase and creates a lot more work for our already short-handed staff,” Kotufo said. 

    Bottled water is also, according to Kotufo, by far their biggest seller, making its elimination a challenge for the food service’s budget.. 

    SEA’s goal is to help WHS become more eco-friendly, and in 2021 they saw some significant progress when they started a Plastic Bag Recycling project. Junior Maximilian Tomczak, who started the project, focused it on creating local change,

    “Starting on January 18, 2021, running all the way through June 18, we as a community collected 900 pounds of bags, a smashing success. In total, that is about 72,000 bags recycled, and 2.43 tons of CO2 prevented from entering the atmosphere.” Tomczak said. 

     Tomczak thinks that, just like with plastic bags, there is a long-term solution to plastic use in general around WHS.

     “I am pushing for the Weston Transfer Station to implement a more long-term solution, and I am working with sustainability groups in Weston, such as the Sustainable Weston Action Group,” said Tomczak, “[At our school], there are still bins around to recycle cans and such that I feel aren’t always being used.”

     Both SEA and the food service department share a belief that education is the best way to overcome any obstacles to recycling and reducing plastic use.

     “Our best avenue would be to educate and instruct the faculty and student body how to recycle our plastics.” Kotufo said.

     Outside of the SEA club, students have taken initiatives to educate themselves on the use of plastic and awareness of its impact on the environment.

    “I’ve been trying more to focus on the amount of plastic I use,” said freshman Shelby Crutchfield. “I feel as if it’s necessary to cut down on what I use.”

     In order to continue to spread their message of environmental action, SEA will be working with the WHS Art department and the Cambridge School at Weston to produce an art display in the spring. SEA is slowly but surely bringing change, behind the scenes, to WHS, according to the advisor of SEA and science teacher, Janet Kresel-Moffat.

     “​​We have a handful of students and work to make a difference in the high school,” said Kresl-Moffat. “SEA is a little bit like the tortoise – we keep working to make a difference but are not particularly showy about it.”