Plastic Free Lunch Day (PFLD)

June 9, 2022


P.S. 971 School of Math, Science, and Health Living – a school inspired by PLASTIC FREE LUNCH DAY!  

The first ever Plastic Free Lunch Day (PFLD) in NYC public schools happened on May 16th. All over the city, students joined the Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS) in a  monumental effort to create as little single-use plastic waste as possible. And it was a huge success; some students even called the day spectacular! 

The effort was brought about through a partnership between OFNS and NYC-based environmental education organization, Cafeteria Culture. During PFLD, elementary schools with onsite kitchens received plastic-free lunch service, with no plastic packaging and or utensils used during the school-provided lunch.  

To measure the impact of PFLD, many schools conducted plastic waste audits to compare their plastic waste on PFLD to regular days. This data is critical to pushing us closer to eliminating single-use plastic waste from lunch service. As Robert Markuske, Sustainability Coordinator and Instructor of Marine Policy and Advocacy at the New York Harbor Schools, says to his students, “You can’t change what you can’t measure.”  

Here’s how Plastic Free Lunch Day went down at one Brooklyn elementary school.: 

Preparations for Plastics Free Lunch Day (PFLD) at PS 971 began in April when founding Principal, Dr. Ruth Stanislaus, and Dr. Kerri Durante, Science Specialist D20 STEAM Coach, met to schedule school-wide PFLD-themed school events. 

Two weeks before PFLD, Dr. Durante taught all K971 students about single use plastics, helping her scholars understand the harmful impact plastics pose to humans and wildlife. Students learned about the many everyday items they use that contain plastic, as well as about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a gyre of marine debris particles and microplastics in the central North Pacific Ocean. Learning about plastic waste in the ocean just before PFLD inspired the school community to action. 

With support from GrowNYC Zero Waste Schools, Dr. Durante and her student Green Team conducted two plastic waste audits using our Plastic Waste Audit guide. This data would be compared with data from PFLD to see just how much plastic was reduced. Here are some steps they took to ensure their data was accurate: 

  • Before and during the audits the Green Team and Dr. Durante spoke with OFNS staff; they also worked with the school aides and peers to make sure everyone was on board with the audits.  

  • The Green Team used Cafeteria Culture’s Data Collection sheet to record the quantities and types of single-use plastics at lunch. 

  • Green Team members took photos during the audit, capturing the many soft and hard plastics that are used as food packaging. The photographs recorded their process, the plastics that they observed, and the data collected.  

During the first audit, the Green Team noticed a lot of uneaten recoverable food, which led them to create the school’s first share table in the cafeteria! They also wanted to address the plastic Ziplock bags and single use water bottles they observed, so they requested reusable snack bags and water bottles from GrowNYC Zero Waste Schools for students who did not have them. Additionally, the school held, “Bring your own Reusable Utensil Day,” and families were given a cost comparison of a zero-waste lunch (using reusable containers) vs. packing single-serve disposable lunch and snack options.  

On Plastic Free Lunch Day (PFLD) May 16, 2022! 

The Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS) team at PS 971 was ready to go! Using the OFNS video from Cafeteria Culture to prep, they successfully served a lunch meal without unnecessary single-use plastics! Congratulations to the OFNS team at P.S. 971 – Vinny Farrauto, Hugo Bonita, school cook, Tony Ruiz, and OFNS manager Dana Hickley.  

Created by in partnership with NYC Department of Education Office of Food and Nutrition Services and Office of Sustainability. This video shows you how to prepare the PLASTIC FREE LUNCH DAY MENU for
Monday May 16th!

(You can click the time code below to jump to each part)
00:38 PIZZA

Thank you for helping to make PLASTIC FREE LUNCH DAY a success!
Next, watch Plastic Free Lunch Day - get ready, NYC schools!

More info at

Here are some key actions the school took: 

  • At the OFNS flavor station, individual sauce packets were replaced with a large reusable squeeze bottles filled with dressing.  

  • Announcements were made in the morning and during lunch reminding everyone it was PFLD. 

  • Students and staff brought in their reusable utensils and bottles to school. 

The Green Team made sure to conduct another plastic waste audit to capture all this reduction and guided their peers on what to sort during lunchtime. Their results showed that OFNS lunch service created significantly less plastic waste. For instance, they recorded 93 utensil wrappers during the first audit and 161 during the second; but on Plastic Free Lunch Day, they noticed the number of utensil wrappers used reduced to 0. Check out more of their findings below: 

Item Before PFLD (May 5) Before BFLD (May 10) On PFLD (May 16)
Utensil Wrapper 93 161 0
Plastic condiment wrapper 5 128 3
Food Wrapper 5 108 5
Plastic cup 206 230 57

When Dr. Durante and the Green Team looked at their month of outreach and education about reducing plastic waste, they reported some other key takeaways: 

  • Their cafeteria share table is a great and simple way to reduce food loss and provide food to those who need it. 

  • Many students continued to bring their reusable utensils. 

  • After distributing reusable bottles, there was less single-use plastic bottle waste. 

  • Plastic Free Lunch Day was fun even if it was just for one day. 

There is more work to be done, like getting rid of plastic cups by the water station, sauce packets, prepackaged utensil packets. So, they are using their Green Team meetings to further their cafeteria plastic waste advocacy project. 

Check out some images of the P.S. 971 school team in action

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