Washougal High School changes to real dishware and ditches the disposables

What if more students enjoyed their school lunch on a washable plate instead of paper boat or plastic clamshell and with an actual fork instead of plastic fork? What would the dining experience be like? How much waste could be reduced? Would money be saved by investing in durable dishware? What about more scratch cooking instead of pre-made food. Would students eat more of the food they are served? What if a school tried all this during the COVID pandemic?

The forward-thinking team at Washougal High School has taken on an astonishing project that has changed the look and taste of meals for their students. In the 2020-21 school year they changed to a self-operated kitchen instead of using a food service company. With that change came more decision-making power for the school and district. They are working towards offering students more scratch-made food and students are liking it!

The switch to durable dishware came during this school year, even with the challenges of the pandemic. How will that investment in durable dishware pay off? In a year of full student attendance that investment in dishware would be made up in a month. With many students back, WSD is well on their way of recovering that upfront cost. The cost for one clamshell is $.70. Add to that the plasticware packet and disposal cost, the real cost of disposables escalates. The investment in washable dishware will be realized for many years to come. Students have been very diligent about returning plates, even when they are eating in other areas of the campus. They invested in a sturdy china plate rather than plastic which can be easily confused as a disposable and tossed. They also brought in the Clark County Green Schools sort tables which are used at many schools across the county to helps students sort recyclables and food waste.

"WHS students who have been working in small groups on campus have been assisting in the set up and preparation for all students returning to campus. They are actively learning how to support the 'green school' transition and we are so proud of their leadership and excitement around the change." 

Margaret Rice, WSD CTE and Culinary Services Director

So, how is the effort going? Here's what they said:

Margaret Rice, WSD CTE and Culinary Services Director

"The up front work on training and implementing the sort tables along with the investment in table settings couldn't have gone better. In true Washougal Panther-Style, our students are respectful of the process and appreciate the reciprocated respect of the opportunity to eat off of real plates. There has been very little waste which has mostly been sorted properly thanks to the easy-to-use sort tables and signage. The quality of meals being produced in house is also getting a lot of praise from students and staff which is a huge factor in the reduction of food waste being produced. The commitment from the district, the staff and the students are the reason for the tremendous success. Take that COVID!"

Alex Yost, CTE Pro Tech Project Manager

"In regards to how it's going: short answer is REALLY well! Students are respectful of the process and seeing the value of eating off of real plates. Very little waste is being improperly sorted. The quality of meals being produced in house is also getting a lot of praise from students and staff which is resulting in substantially reduced food waste being produced. I am beginning to work with our ASB student leadership on the EarthGen report card for Bronze Level Certification. 

One of the biggest assets that we have as a school is the collaborative team of staff working across departments to ensure the efficacy and flow of these projects. The sort table project in particular is strongly supported by custodial and culinary services staff working together to creatively problem solve and share responsibility of maintaining and cleaning the tables. We also have support from Life Skills staff who worked with students to decorate signage for the tables as well as train as table monitors during lunch. Our goal will be to expand our table monitor training program to other student groups next year."

What will the final results of the change be? That will remain to be seen as they are able to bring more students on campus in the future and reap the savings of less disposables and hauling costs. The team is committed to continuing to be creative in their approach to solving problems. The team effort and leadership is definitely a key to their success and evident as we have worked together through the implementation of these projects.

Three cheers for the Washougal Culinary Arts, CTE and Custodial teams for making this waste reduction dream a reality.  

One of the biggest assets that we have as a school is the collaborative team of staff working across departments to ensure the efficacy and flow of these projects.

Alex Yost, CTE Pro Tech Project Manager
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