SAN MARCOS — The San Marcos Unified School District food service program is exempt from a recent city ordinance banning single-use plastic utensils and containers and Styrofoam products.
The single-use plastics ban was unanimously approved by the San Marcos City Council on Oct. 12 and will be phased in over two years beginning next summer.
Part of the ordinance reads that “prepared food provided by San Marcos Unified School District under its official food service program” would be an “exemption” to the ordinance.
At the council meeting, city management analyst Sean Harris addressed Councilmember Sharon Jenkins’ concern about the exemption.
“That was a jurisdictional decision, I wanted to let them make their own decision. … It was on staff’s determination,” Harris said. “In other cities, I saw that most of them waived it for their school districts, so I decided to do that as well.”
City Manager Jack Griffin also indicated that the city would continue conversations with SMUSD as the ordinance develops.
Naomi Shadwell, SMUSD’s director of nutrition services, told The Coast News that she and the program have already implemented several measures to increase sustainability.
“When I started here about a year and a half ago, I removed all Styrofoam trays, and we have, wherever possible, been working on reducing our single-use plastic. So it is something that I’m very passionate about,” Shadwell said.
“I also brought in share tables, which enables students, if they don’t want, say, a piece of fruit or bag of carrots, they’re able to put that item in the share table and then we can bring that back into our operation. So it does reduce food waste, but in addition to that, it helps reduce single-use plastics from the bagged carotene as well.”
The SMUSD food service program serves about 10,000 lunches every day, as well as breakfast and dinner. The district’s secondary level, middle and high school students, is where single-use plastics are used the most, according to Shadwell.
“At each high school, we serve about 1,200 students within 30 minutes, and due to that impact and the quickness of service, it requires all of the entrees to be pre-packaged,” Shadwell said. “In addition, the health department code requires that all food that we serve outside is overwrapped or closed.”
She added that the district is also required to serve fruits and vegetables, which are currently served in containers or baggies.
Shadwell said it is unlikely the district will be able to completely eliminate single-use plastics within a short period of time.
“Our goal is always to maximize and to provide and to look for ways where we can reduce our single-use plastics,” Shadwell said. “So we’re always looking for innovative ways. We’re looking to partner, we’re looking for products in the industry that would enable us to reduce single-use plastics. At this time, I don’t foresee within a short period of time that we would be able to completely remove single-use plastics, but our goal is to continue to reduce them as much as possible.”
According to Shadwell, decisions regarding single-use plastic reduction would be made by the Child Nutrition Services department but may include direction from the SMUSD board of directors depending on the circumstance.
SMUSD’s food service program is funded by federal and state reimbursement programs.