Sustainability at the core of new school lunch programme

Two white woman stand in front of snack fridge
CIS Director of Finance Dawn Eaton, left, and Market Street Ltd. Food & Beverage Supervisor Shannon Moir helped launch a sustainable lunch programme at Cayman International School — Photo: Rhian Campbell

How does a school positively impact not only Cayman's environment but potentially environments around the world?

How does a company specialising in food and beverages bring healthy new daily habits to a community?

They start with the children … who as it turns out, had the same idea. 

In August 2022, Market Street Ltd (MSL) — which owns and operates The Brooklyn Pizza + Pasta, Pani Indian Kitchen, Mizu Asian Bistro + Bar and The Waterfront Urban Diner — officially began providing catering for the cafeteria at Cayman International School (CIS), which at the time was employing single-use plastics for most of their cutlery, cups and containers. Plastic bottles of water filled the cafeteria fridge and staff were often using disposable cups for their coffee.

Unhappy with the way things stood, CIS Director of Finance Dawn Eaton and MSL Food & Beverage Supervisor Shannon Moir discussed opportunities to reduce single-use food packaging and waste disposal.

Moir had previous experience in this arena from her time as an assistant supervisor of food services at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, and many ideas on what changes could be put into play. Alternative packaging must be sourced, and students and staff alike would have to be encouraged to adopt new practices. With sustainability being one of the main community principles at CIS, it was crucial to Eaton and Moir that they find a way to make this work. However, both knew that for any programme to be a success, they would have to get the children on board.

Then in the fall of 2022, entirely unbidden, they were approached by a CIS student and representative of the student-led environmental advocacy group, Protect Our Future. The children wanted to know what the school could do to incorporate more sustainable food product practices. The timing could not have been better. Encouraged by their school’s determination to make improvements, the students held an assembly for their peers, including a video presentation explaining the changes to be implemented, their importance and an introduction to the new products and packaging.

On the first day of March 2023, just eight months after discussions began, the school-wide initiative towards a more sustainable way of living was rolled out. Recycling bins were placed on all three floors with eating areas, making them easily accessible to students. Staff were given reusable coffee mugs to take the place of disposables and students were asked to bring their own water bottles to school to be refilled at the water coolers. Plastic food containers and cutlery were replaced with sturdy, reusable alternatives.

"We’ve had a fantastic first year providing food and beverages for the students and faculty at CIS," Moir said. "Collaborating with the school and the students to better our programme, with initiatives such as reusable service products, has been fun and rewarding."

There were a few hiccups initially with metal cutlery inadvertently disappearing into the bins as old habits persisted, but installing magnet-filled bin lids soon took care of that problem. A meeting was held to explain the importance of these items not ending up in the landfill and assistant principals were out the first few weeks reminding students to return the reusable containers to the canteen. Teachers and students alike were committed in their collaborative efforts to make this not just a temporary initiative but a permanent change in the culture.

"[We have been] pleasantly surprised at how well it is working," Moir said.

It is now three months since this sustainability plan came into effect and CIS and MSL have replaced approximately 95% of the single-use items with a reusable or recyclable alternative.

This article was published in the June 2023 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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