San Marcos High School ~ Santa Barbara, CA

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Green Staff Feature: Cafeteria and Custodial

Baylie Bingham
SMHS Cafeteria Kitchen

In the increasingly popular fight for sustainability, high schools across the nation are taking steps to reduce waste and their overall environmental footprint. While students and school districts often receive praise for their efforts, there are behind-the-scenes heroes to be acknowledged as well. Cafeteria and custodial staff work diligently every single day to both do their jobs best as possible, and minimize waste by promoting habits that are better for the environment. Whether it be through the cooking of balanced and healthy meals, courtesy of our cafeteria staff, or picking up trash for multiple hours everyday after school, also courtesy of our custodial staff. These dedicated individuals play a pivotal role in the implementation and promotion of these ideas. 

After talking with various staff working in the cafeteria, oftentimes (depending on what is being served) preparation for the day’s breakfast and lunch begins a day in advance. Whether it be defrosting, preparing, and then plating, there is much to be done every day. Most foods come courtesy of Jordano’s while produce is courtesy of the Berry Man Inc, allowing for them to curate both vegetarian and classic meal options every single day. 

“I love working with kids and this is a great opportunity to do so,” said Alejandra Ramirez, the cafeteria manager and kitchen staff member for nearly eight years.

With this knowledge, the foremost of the eco-challenges that both the cafeteria and custodial staff are faced with lies within managing food waste. According to the World Wildlife Fund, as of 2022, American high schools across the nation produce up to 530,000 tons of waste annually. When food and lunch products go to waste (oftentimes being left around campus instead of properly disposed of), we are not only creating physical waste that end up in landfills, but also being unappreciative of the time and resources our kitchen puts in every day. Our cafeteria staff works hard to provide us with two balanced meals during our school day. So for it to go to waste is not only deeply unappreciative, but also wasteful. 

Alongside the cafeteria staff’s efforts, it is important to acknowledge that the better part of waste scattered throughout campus is that of either packed lunches or school lunches. Most of what is collected, according to our custodial staff, is bits and pieces of whatever food was handed out that day; unopened milk cartons, empty lunch trays, and other miscellaneous items. To make matters worse, these scraps attract seagulls and other birds to the Quad, only extending the cleanup process. Outside of this, our custodial staff work to manage the recycling programs, ensuring that paper, cardboard, plastics, and other recyclables are properly separated from regular waste. A problem at our school, according to our custodial staff, is that despite the many trash and recycling units scattered throughout campus, more trash seems to make it onto the floor than in the bins provided. 

“Between two gardeners, it takes a little bit over two hours,” Jaime Navarro, the head groundskeeper of 17 years said. “And it is getting worse and worse, maybe three hours now.”

With this, it is important for our student body to take a more proactive approach when it comes to seeing litter lying around campus. From waste, your school lunch, or something else you brought from home, placing it where it belongs is not something that should solely fall upon the shoulders of our hardworking custodians. And appreciating the food our cafeteria provides, while not letting it go to waste is equally as important. Their joint efforts to reduce food waste, source sustainable ingredients, provide us with balanced and nutritious meals, and promote recycling across campus, all contribute to making San Marcos more eco-friendly. 

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About the Contributor
Baylie Bingham
Baylie Bingham, Editor-in-Chief
Baylie is a senior at San Marcos High School. This is her fourth year doing the King's Page. Throughout her time, she has held a variety of positions, first as a staff writer, then as graphics editor, sports editor, social media manager, and now as editor-in-chief She loves to write about politics, the environment, and local events in both San Marcos and Santa Barbara as a whole.
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