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COVID-19 mitigation hinders sustainability progress in cafeteria

Zal+Rimer+%28%E2%80%9925%29+selects+a+pre-packaged+food+item+in+the+cafeteria.+Pre-packaged+items+were+re-implemented+amid+the+pandemic+to+mitigate+germ+exposure%2C+but+the+catering+staff+plans+to+return+to+their+goal+of+reducing+plastic+consumption+in+the+2022-23+school+year.+
Nassef Sawiris
Zal Rimer (’25) selects a pre-packaged food item in the cafeteria. Pre-packaged items were re-implemented amid the pandemic to mitigate germ exposure, but the catering staff plans to return to their goal of reducing plastic consumption in the 2022-23 school year.

In past years, the cafeteria set goals to reduce plastic consumption and subsequently lower the school’s carbon footprint. However, to limit COVID-19 exposure at the start of the pandemic, the cafeteria reverted back to single-wrapped options, per Catering Manager Christine Kent.

Kent said the cafeteria has reintroduced individual packaging to align with mitigation measures, which has hindered their sustainability progress. 

“Post-lockdown, we’ve had to bring back more things like salad and individual pots, which has harmed our attempts to improve the plastic situation,” she said. 

Similarly, Director of Athletics John Farmer said the pandemic required people to revise central parts of their lives to limit exposure. 

“The whole world is trying to figure out how to do life in this new world of trying to make sure that people aren’t exchanging germs and things like that,” he said. “When COVID hit, we all kind of just took 10 steps back.”

While Ines Ghandour (’23) said she understands the pandemic’s impact on plastic use, she said sustainability must be prioritized. 

“I completely agree with decisions which had to be made because of COVID,” she said. “Still, it’s important that we know to move forward and begin rethinking our plastic usages as a community.”

Kent said the cafeteria will be returning to its previous practices in the 2022-23 school year, which will re-establish the path to long-term reduction of plastic consumption. She said some of these sustainable services include self-served fruit, yogurt containers and a salad bar.

Before packaging changes were implemented due to COVID-19, Flint Debor (’25) said he was satisfied with the cafeteria’s plastic consumption status.

“I remember having all of the reusable cutlery and containers before COVID and it was great,” he said. “Hopefully, someday soon, we can go back to those days and continue building on that progress.”

Although the pandemic delayed progress, Kent said the cafeteria’s removal of plastic cutlery remained a precedent, which she deemed a “considerable” step toward sustainability.

Debor said the school is unique in its limiting of single-use plastic in the cafeteria, where “everything is mostly reusable.”

Ghandour said although there is still a “significant amount of work for us to do,” there will never be a completely plastic-free cafeteria.

“It’s just about remaining as sustainable as possible while cutting down as much as we can on plastic,” she said.

Ultimately, Farmer said he hopes the cafeteria can revert back to its previous plastic reduction measures in place prior to the pandemic.

“I would like to see us go back to the way it was pre-COVID,” he said. “Single-use plastic was implicitly discouraged, where people would have to use trays and go to a general salad bar, sandwich bar, where there wasn’t packaging that was gonna get thrown in the bin afterwards.”

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About the Contributor
Nassef Sawiris, Lead Sports Editor
Nassef Sawiris (’25) is the Lead Sports Editor for The Standard, and this is his third year in the publication. Sawiris began his journalism career 5 years ago on the Middle School newspaper, The Scroll. His love for writing covers various topics with the common goal of arguing his opinion and educating the community on issues he feels passionate about. He continues to actively participate in other extracurricular activities such as his role on the varsity soccer team along with his leadership position in the Investment Club.

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