SENIORS Shane McQueen (left) and Jake Mallett want LHS to stop using single-use plastics in the café. (Dan Tomasello Photo)



LYNNFIELD — Two seniors want Lynnfield High School to stop using disposable plastic food containers and utensils in the cafeteria and switch to reusable ones.

Jake Mallett and Shane McQueen said during the School Committee’s April 5 meeting they are currently enrolled in LHS Science Department Head Scott Gordon’s Environmental Science and Sustainability course. Jake said the two friends worked on a project that seeks to “improve sustainability.”

“We are proposing that polystyrene and single-use plastics be eliminated,” said Jake. “We are trying to make a change.”

Polystyrene is a plastic material that is used to make disposal trays and food containers. Jake said the Food Service Department is currently using polystyrene containers for hot meals while salads are served in plastic containers. He also said students and staff use plastic utensils to eat.

“They can’t be recycled,” said Jake.

Shane, who is the son of School Committee member Phil McQueen, recalled that the high school holds three lunch periods each school day.

“Each lunch period has six barrels that are filled with single-use plastics, including treys, folks, spoons, knives, wrappers and juice cups,” said Shane. “That means there are 18 barrels getting filled every day.”

While Jake said the high school has recycling bins and was recently given a composting bin, he said those can’t be used to recycle polystyrene and plastic materials.

Jake noted that eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year.

“Fifty percent of all plastic is single use,” said Jake. “The average lifespan of these pieces is 12 minutes. There is no need for it when people can buy reusable bottles. Sixty-three barrels of oil are used every year to supply the U.S. with plastic bottles alone, and 4,000 plastic bottles are used every second. Eighty percent of ocean waste started on land.”

Shane said plastic is not biodegradable. After a person throws out a plastic bottle, he said it will “break down into smaller pieces” and will eventually find its way into the ocean. He noted that fish often eat small plastic pieces by mistake.

“If we eat fish, we have plastic in our blood,” said Shane. “We do not need to take part in the destruction of our oceans.”

Jake noted that the chemicals in polystyrene “are detrimental to the human body.”

“A study from 2013 published in ‘Reviews on Environmental Health’ showed plastic food containers contain BPA (bisphenol A), BPS (bisphenol S) or other endocrine disruptors,” said Jake. “When BPA was banned in plastics, it was simply replaced with BPS. Both of these are equivalent to the female hormone estrogen. These chemicals are linked to breast cancer, heart disease, reduced brain function, reproductive disorders, Type 2 diabetes, reduced female egg quality, male impotence and decreases the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Single-use plastic is just hurting all of the students.”

Shane explained that there are a number of “safety precautions” at the high school that are designed to keep students and staff safe. He said using single-use plastics at the LHS cafeteria is negatively impacting students’ health.

“We are essentially poisoning ourselves,” said Shane. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Jake said information provided by Food Services Director Jim McCarthy from 2018 revealed that the department spent $11,500 on disposal plastic utensils.

“We are wasting money by throwing those away,” said Jake. “A quick check at a local store shows that six stainless steel utensils per student can be purchased for the same amount of money.”

Shane said a middle school in Minnesota switched from plastic lunch utensils to disposable ones.

“They saved $3,000 by buying reusable metal utensils, and the annual cost dropped from $6.89 to $4.83,” said Shane. “They prevented 6,000 lbs. of solid waste. They bought 12,000 metal utensils as opposed to buying 700,000 plastic utensils. In a year, there was a 4.4 percent reduction in life cycle greenhouse gasses. In three years, the reusable metal utensils resulted in a life cycle reduction of 88 percent of greenhouse gases. In three years, the school saved $23,000.”

Jake recalled that 54 communities in Massachusetts have “already banned some form of polystyrene.”

“New York State banned single-use polystyrene containers on Jan. 1, 2022,” said Jake. “If the entire state of New York can do it, there is no reason why our town can’t make this switch.”

Shane recalled that, “McDonald’s stopped using Styrofoam in 1990 due to its damaging effects.”

“McDonald’s is viewed as an unhealthy restaurant due to the preservatives in the food,” said Shane. “It’s very concerning that they are serving safer food than our school. If we really want to truly become a sustainable school, which we claim to be, then we must switch out the single-use plastics and Styrofoam for reusable plastic trays and metal utensils. We need to minimize the damage that is already coming from climate change and stop trashing the planet with plastic.”

School Committee Chair Rich Sjoberg asked the two seniors if they looked at the cost of switching from single-use plastics to reusable containers and metal utensils.

Shane said LHS Science Department Head Scott Gordon recently ordered $2,000 worth of reusable plastic trays for the high school.

“That cuts down on supply chain issues because we already have the trays and Mr. McCarthy won’t have to order more,” said Shane. “It makes sense economically and environmentally.”

Sjoberg was incredibly impressed by Jake and Shane’s presentation.

“I want to commend both of you on the depth of work that you have done,” said Sjoberg.

School Committeeman Jamie Hayman agreed.

“This is enlightening and frightening at the same time,” said Hayman. “I actually bet these numbers went up because of COVID.”

School Committee member Phil McQueen commended his son and Jake for giving a thorough presentation.

“We are 30 years behind McDonald’s,” said McQueen. “That is kind of a problem because they are not usually known as ecological innovators.”

School Committee Vice Chair Stacy Dahlstedt was impressed by the “passion” Jake and Shane have for eliminating single-use plastics from the high school. She was also impressed by the two friends’ detailed presentation.

“I really appreciate your honesty, your ingenuity, your creativity and your desire to help find a solution,” said Dahlstedt.

Dahlstedt asked if there are any nearby communities that have banned single-use plastics and polystyrene.

Shane said Andover and Saugus have both banned single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers.

“It’s a wave that will be reaching us soon,” said Shane. “We should do it now before we have to do it.”

In response to a question from School Committee member Kate DePrizio, Shane said the high school will need to educate students and staff members about how composting works because not everyone composts at home.