FARGO — An earth-friendly transition in the lunchroom at Davies High School here is proving a little tougher than expected.
The school’s Environmental Club led a push late last school year to use stainless steel flatware instead of disposable utensils.
The goal was to cut the amount of nonbiodegradable plastic that ends up in landfills and eventually adopt regular silverware districtwide.
However, Davies students are throwing away more silverware than the district would like.
Kati Lee, a senior and co-president of the Environmental Club, acknowledged the challenge. “It was kind of a hard switch, because … people don’t like change,” she said.
The situation is improving, slowly.
Ryan Wenaas, a Davies math teacher and co-adviser of the Environmental Club, said the loss rate has gone down since the start of this school year. “We still got a ways to go ... but we’re kind of getting closer every week,” he said.
Then, the Fargo district used plastic exclusively, purchasing 2.5 million plastic forks, spoons and knives before the start of the school year that fall, while West Fargo and Moorhead schools relied on a mix of plastic and stainless steel.
Weighing the costs
Before Davies made the switch to stainless steel, the Environmental Club did its homework. With the help of local college students, they secured price quotes for real silverware and the dishwasher racks needed to accommodate it.
They figured out costs of replacing silverware that is lost or thrown out. They also considered additional costs for labor and water use, and sent a draft to district administration for approval.
The hope is those extra expenses will be more than offset by having to purchase much less plastic in the future. Davies will continue to use plastic knives in its lunchroom out of safety concerns.
However, Wenaas said knives are the least-used utensils in the lunchroom, making up only about 15 percent of those used.
Dana Rieth, director of Food Services at West Fargo Public Schools, said students there also don’t need knives often at mealtimes, and they will continue using the plastic variety on those occasions.
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In addition to Davies, one other Fargo school has ditched the plastic.
Cindy Hogenson, nutrition services director for Fargo Public Schools, said Hawthorne Elementary students use real silverware in the lunchroom, with kitchen staff washing it by hand.
None of the Fargo elementary schools is equipped with a dishwashing machine, so lunch trays have to be shipped by truck to the district’s central kitchen daily to be washed.
Something similar would have to happen with silverware as well, Hogenson said.
In West Fargo, all schools have automated dishwashers, so that isn’t an issue. Rieth said all of their elementary schools and Liberty Middle School use stainless steel.
She’s hoping to start at least one more building on silverware this school year and go district-wide with the change in the future.
In Moorhead, two elementary schools use real silverware, but there are no plans to expand its use in the district at this time.
Donna Tvedt, food service director at Moorhead Area Public Schools, said replacement costs of real silverware is prohibitive and the process of sorting the utensils to wash in their machines is difficult when staffing is tight.
Silverware less clean?
Hogenson said the commercial industry average for silverware loss is 50 percent annually, and the rate being tossed out at Davies is higher than that.
But she said she is confident the number will decrease and the school will get to an “acceptable level of loss.”
Another small, but not insignificant issue has to do with a perception among some students that real silverware is not as clean as plastic because it’s reused — something Lee called “kind of frustrating.”
Those students likely have no issue eating in restaurants, she said, where utensils are also reused.
The Environmental Club students are excited to take a big bite out of the 250,000 plastic utensils being thrown away annually by Davies students.
Lee said she thinks all students will come around to the idea, eventually and new students coming in as freshmen won’t know it any other way. She hopes the goal of getting all schools to reuse their cafeteria utensils is within reach.
“I think that would be really big, if we could do that,” Lee said.