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Middletown, CT--Randall Mel Jr., the Food and Nutrition manager of the Middletown Public Schools, has launched a fundraising campaign to purchase reusable foodware for all 10 Middletown schools.

Randall has been working with the City of Middletown’s Recycling Coordinator, Kimberly O’Rourke, and Clean Water Fund’s ReThink Disposable Zero Waste Organizer, Amber Schmidt, to develop an implementation plan to remove all single-use disposables from school cafeterias. The fundraising campaign has been launched with the support of Sustainable CT and their Community Matching Fund that will match dollar for dollar donations raised up to $7,500 and they are racing against the clock to raise their goal of $10,000 by September 1st, 2023. 

“Here in Middletown Public Schools, one of our goals in switching to reusable utensils and servingware is to utilize the funds that would have went to disposable items and instead reinvest them into the quality of our food. It was estimated that in this switch we will be saving over $80,000 per school year; with this savings we will focus on buying locally grown foods from small farmers and growers throughout the state of Connecticut with a specific focus in supporting farmers and growers of color. These funds will greatly improve our quality of food and bring more variety to our students during mealtimes". - Randall Mel Jr., Food and Nutrition Manager Middletown Public Schools.

The full implementation cost for the reusable foodware is $35,135 and this transition will remove over 3 million pieces of single-use items from entering our waste stream or polluting our streets and waterways; the equivalent of 15.5 tons of trash every year! To achieve this, Randall, Kim, and Amber have decided on two phases of implementation. This first phase will replace compostable trays, 3 sizes of food boats, and all plastic utensils costing $19,676. Replacement of these items is a significant reduction in the amount of waste currently being generated in the school cafeterias. The school system will see savings after just a few months of using reusable foodware. The savings earned by the school will be used to provide healthier and planet-friendly meals for the 4,500 students in attendance.

The waste crisis is real. Waste disposal capacity in New England, and all through the US, is shrinking. The New England region is expected to lose 40% of its trash disposal capacity in the next 5 years— and up to 100% by 2040. Notably, the incinerator in Hartford closed last summer, leaving 35 neighboring communities without a disposal site. The alternative of trucking CT trash up to 600 miles out of state is not sustainable. In short, space is shrinking, and costs are rising drastically. This will continue until we find and implement a new approach. The City’s Recycling Division has been working on several programs to reduce and divert regular trash to more sustainable alternatives. 

The City has initiated programs to divert food scraps from restaurants, encourage backyard composting and curbside collection of food scraps, reduce single use coffee cups and use reusable take out containers at restaurants. The Middletown Public Schools have also created programs to reduce the use of single use bags, switch out single use trays to reusable ones and eliminate single use water bottles in the cafeterias. 

For residents interested in helping the district purchase the reusables needed please visit

ReThink Disposable, a program of Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund, aims to stop waste before it starts. We work with local governments, businesses and institutions, and consumers of single use food packaging to inspire a cultural shift away from the single use “throwaway” lifestyle. By providing knowledge, guidance, and support, ReThink Disposable inspires change that leads to conserved resources, saved energy, and reduced litter polluting our oceans, lakes, and rivers.

ReThink Disposable is funded in part by the Community Foundation of Middlesex Country and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.

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