Eating with a spork every day is a bit strange. Whenever I brought my lunch to work before the project, I always grabbed metal utensils from the drawer and threw them into my lunch bag. I did it because I didn’t want waste plastic. Not to mention that eating from metal is just nicer than eating from plastic.

I did some light research (wikipedia) about sporks and I was shocked to find out that they have been around for more than 100 years. I had assumed that sporks were recent thing.

I’m sure the reason that sporks were adopted as the one and only cafeteria utensil is for the convenience of plastic. But I think we need to bring back real utensils and dishwashers. I read a school can recoup the cost of a dishwasher within three years (I can’t find the citation though). And what about the cost of garbage pickup and dumping? We have to think about long-term environmental effects of thousands upon thousands of single use plastic sporks going into our landfills. Seven billion meals are served in school every year (Free for All). That’s a lot of plastic and styrofoam!

We have to reimagine school lunch. That means ditching the spork and offering every student a real spoon and fork with their meal (knives are out for the obvious reasons). Real silverware is the right choice for them and our environment.

Maybe I’ll stop grabbing the spork from the cafeteria and bring my own silverware from home. Or I could buy myself a titanium spork, but I’m not quite that dorky.

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81 thoughts on “Spork”

  1. I think you have made a good point. At my daughters school it is all prepackaged, spork, napkin and straw. She doesn't always need a straw and now we have more waste with the plastic packaging that contains the tree items.

  2. "knives are out for the obvious reasons"


    Butter knives are not particularly threatening…

  3. I totally disagree with the "knives are out for the obvious reason". With how sharp those knives would be, a lot more harm could be done with a fork, or a par of classroom scissors, or a stapler, …

  4. I think schools in general are too afraid of "weapons". They let the kids have scissors and there are staplers in the classrooms. I'm not saying they get to bring guns to school, or a butcher knife for that matter, but a real spoon and real fork shouldn't hurt anybody more than a mechanical pencil can. (Mechanical pencils can do some serious damage, FYI) Or, if the spork is a must, why not use a metal spork? The problem is always going to be the upfront cost. America, as a whole, doesnt look too far into the future but at what they can get right now. (For more info on this check out a study in Psychological Science from this month @ http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/03/19/0956797610366090.full )

  5. I would get sick at the sight of all the garbage. It makes me so sad to see day after day of all the disposable stuff.

  6. We used grant money to purchase a dishwasher and we also invested in spoons and forks from local thrift stores. At 15c apiece this is a very cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to plastic-ware, even with the inevitable shrinkage of utensils that occurs over time. Admittedly at our school we're lucky that we don't have to serve more than 100 meals at a time, so we don't need expensive commercial dishwashers.

  7. Nothing wrong with being a dork Mrs. Q.
    Im a bit of an odd duck myself and in school i eventually found myself and stopped hiding that i was different. Around high school it became a trend to be odd and has been ever since (i.e. emo, goth, punk, etc were styles but not usually seen in school systems because it labeled you as a rebel and got you in trouble with authority -usually frowned upon.) Now behold- our schools are a utopia of styles and tastes. Does my heart good to see expression allowed amoungst students… though i went to private school as well and the uniforms gave people a conversation piece about comfort, style, practicality… hmmm i think i shall blog about this! BACK TO ORIGINAL POINT, depending on the student personality in your school it might inspire the kids seeing an adult eating the nasty lunches with your own utensils.

  8. At my school growing up we had trays and silverware that were washed every day. I'm not sure if they still do that, but I liked having the 'real' stuff.

  9. My mom is a lunch lady and most times they have trays and real silverware. The food is alot different than shown they do use a lot of frozen food but they also make somethings from scratch / my mom is the baker and makes rolls and/or fresh desserts everyday

  10. Hate hate hate the sporks at my school. I always forget my own silverware and end up using them tho. 🙁

  11. We still use the hard plastic-y reusable trays that are run through the Automatic Dishwasher, but we have plastic spoons and forks (yes, even sometimes the famous spork) at the school I teach in. However, other than the fact that your food is pre-packaged and ours is not, it looks similar. So at least we are not creating as much trash as we could be.

  12. I have to say I agree and disagree. It would be nice for students to use actual flatware. However, I stand near the trash cans at the end of lunch at our school and see how our students dispose of leftover food on their trays. I think, at my school, we would lose a lot of money that way from having to replace all the lost flatware that was accidentally thrown away.

  13. I've never understood sporks. They just don't seem functional as forks whatsoever. They work fine as spoons, but trying to use the prongs is always frustrating and rarely works in my experience.

    I guess I'd never thought about how you and your students eat your lunches. What about days when the lunch is a breaded chicken patty or something of the like? I can't imagine eating something like that with a spork. It'd be hard enough to make do without a knife, much less without a real (plastic) fork.

  14. I just can't get over all the waste. When I was in school (I graduated in 2001 so it hasn't been that long ago) we had reusable trays and metal silverware that were washed daily. The only things that came in their own package were milk and juice. As far as I know, the school district I was in still does it this way. Is it that hard for a school district with a small budget to wash a dish? I would think it would even be cheaper that way. Where's the common sense of the "powers that be"?

  15. To follow up to Cassandra's comment – I was telling my sister about this blog over the weekend (she teaches in an North Carolina elementary school) and one of the things I was bemoaning was all the waste of paper and plastic with the packaging and sporks. I went to elementary school forty years ago, when all the schools had full kitchens, heavy plastic, washable, reusable plates, metal flatware, and washable plastic trays. They washed it all in dishwashers.

    When I told my sister this, she said her school still has the full kitchen and the washable trays, but they had to give up metal flatware in favor of plastic, because the children kept throwing away the flatware with their milk cartons and paper plates and napkins. It seems to me that a staff member on lunch duty overseeing the tray returns could nip that problem in the bud fairly quickly.

  16. As a kindergartner in 1982 I asked the teacher, "Why is is a spork and not a foon?"

  17. My school DOES provide real silverware for every student. They also provide reuseable glasses if a student would like water with their meal. It is possible!

  18. My kids' school uses real trays and silverware (I think). Not sure how they keep the flatware out of the garbage though.

    I send my kids in with real flatware usually. I think in the past 3 years, we have only lost one fork which is pretty good.

  19. I just asked my 8th grader if they used sporks. She says they have forks and spoons. I'd never thought about it. Hmmm….

  20. Would it be too complicated for everyone to bring their own silverware and a cloth napkin?

    It would be a new paradigm; worth a try.

  21. As a third grade teacher whose school uses the same service, i can say the waste is appalling – both paper/plastic/styrofoam and food. When you get to be the one pushing around the garbage can, your jaw drops. If parents could see what their kids were doing…

    As far as the spork-knife thing – the problem is, occasionally a meal is served that truly requires a knife. The other day we had teriyaki chicken…a piece of a breast. I walked in during kindergarten service and the teachers were looking at the servings saying, "how the heck are the kids supposed to eat this???" You can't even stab it with the short spork tines and pick the whole darned thing up.

  22. My school uses compostable forks, spoons and knives! I'm lucky enough to live in San Francisco, and we have really great recycling and composting set up at my school.

  23. I think it would be really interesting to see how the waste from a school that uses plastic compares to the water used by a school who washes dishes. I bet that's a whole lot gallons down the drain. The school right above me that uses compostable forks sounds like the perfect solution.

  24. Paying someone to operate the dishwasher is the expensive part, as there is the whole 7% employer match on taxes (may be lower in the school industry and may differ by states), the labor of loading and unloading the dishwasher is the expensive part. Also, cheap labor–like a work program through the high school is another quagmire because of child labor laws (though I don't know how dishwasher operation is exploitation, but someone make that argument) so, getting things washed and sanitized has just become a total mess. This doesn't include the up-front cost of buying trays and silverware. With teachers in our district teaching out of converted janitor's closets, and in morton buildings not attached to the main school, finding the initial capital of not using disposable suddenly becomes a herculean and very expensive task. I think school lunches show problems that permeate our society. I would like to see change, but the practically of changing is massive.

  25. Wow, I'm starting to look at my high school with new eyes. We had dishwashers and metal utensils. Plastic was really only an option for students taking their meal "to-go".

  26. That's one thing that's really shocked me about your blog is the amount of waste that comes with school lunch–whether it's a spork, the box the pizza comes in, the paper containers everything comes in–So very wasteful!

  27. I am a teacher, and our elementary school has trays and real forks that are washed each day. Our food is not pre-packaged; it is prepared in the kitchen, and the lunch ladies spoon it onto the trays as the kids come through the lunch line.

  28. The elem school my son attended last year has serious issues w/their cafeteria. They would serve pancakes for breakfast (not homemade of course!) and would only give the kids plastic spoons. I'm serious. And another time they gave the kids spoons again for their slice of ham. LOL. They served boneless "grilled" chicken breast for lunch (ONCE, only once) and this time they provided REAL spoons. Fancy, huh?

  29. Definitely possible! They had it at my highschool, and they use reusable dishes and cups. That's how they served us without all that plastic.

  30. Other than using plastic to save on clean-up, its also used so kids won't have accidents/stab each other. Especially in urban highschools where students are scanned thru a metal detector before entering school.

  31. All I can think of is how, when I went to summer camp (not that long ago, either!), we always used reusable trays, plates, cups, and silverware. Because it was camp, some of the kids always helped on dishwashing duty, which meant we scrubbed the silverware and put the plates and cups in large trays to go through the industrial dishwasher. There were probably about 10-15 people working and it never took more than twenty minutes to get all the dishes cleaned.

    There were probably about 200 kids at camp, however, while my high school had 2000 students.

  32. This reminds me of an initiative we've got running at my university at the moment, I'm sure it's got some fancy name but basically there's a poster campaign running with a tower of styrofoam/paper cups and then one ceramic mug and the tagline is something like 'Don't change how much you consume, change your consumption'.
    The idea is that if you drink 4-5 cups of coffee (or tea, we're British) a day, it is more environmentally friendly to bring your own mug and have it filled; I think you actually get a discount for using your own mug too! I actually saw a guy the other day with a mug attached to his belt, so obviously it's working for people.

  33. Yes, the waste of a plastic spork is a concern…. but also, HOW does a 5 year old eat turkey with gravy on bread with a spork? Or a piece of chicken on the bone with a spork. My daughter loves to buy lunch but often comes home hungry because her spork just doesn't cut it!

  34. my elementary, middle, and highschools all had dishwashers with washable trays (plates and bowls in highschool) and real metal spoons forks and butterknives. I have only been out of school for 4 years. I hope my schools are still doing it that way. Why can't children handle a butterknife? isn't a fork (or even a spork) more dangerous.

  35. I'm in total agreement,they are harmful to the enviroment, and really only a tool of entertainment. I seen a lot of kids at my school bending them and tried to break them, or even draw on them. Oh, and by the way they are difficult to use anyways, in my opinion. I didn't know that sporkes were a hundred years old, I thought too that they were recent. But we do need dishwashers, and use plates and metal utensils.

  36. I think sporks are a waste of time, but we need them for safety reasons. Some students get mad over trivial things and sometimes it can get really dangerous. Now, if we had real silverware in schools, it would be catastrophic. I wish that my and younger generations of students could handle this, but I don't think so (unfortunately).

  37. At my [public] high school the only eating utensil provided is a plastic spork. The prongs are only centimeters long and can't spear anything. You can't even use it to cut up your food. I've tried using the handle on the spork to cut with and that doesn't work either. Noodles are probably the worst food to eat with sporks, though, because they are so soft and slippery–fall right off the prongs. It's really sad when I see everyone using their hands to eat their egg noodles.

    It's aboslutely *ridiculous* how my school expects students to eat our lunch with something so inefficient. It's not just my school, though. All of the schools in my county have sporks. It's so wasteful, and everything else becomes trash after you finish eating too. Styrofoam tray, plastic straw (that no one ever uses), plastic wrapping for spork, pre-packaged drink container…

    I went to a private school for one year prior to coming to my current one. They had forks, spoons, and butter knives AND they were metal! Parents were paying $15,000 or so to send their kids there, however, so I'm sure the school had more money than those in the public system.

    Even then, I think that the intial cost of switching out the spork for *real* cutlery would eventually pay back itself. Maybe economically, but definitely environmentally!

  38. I agree about the silverware, I hated using the plastic at my old schools. Mine were twice as bad, though, because they did offer both a plastic fork and a plastic spoon.

  39. This isn't just an environmental issue. I know it's idealistic to think that real silverware won't be used for stabbing & poking other students, but at the same time, if a school won't give students the means to eat like normal human beings, it doesn't say very much for its expectations, does it?

    I wonder how much bad behaviour could be prevented by elevating the tone of the lunchroom.

    For example, it would be a fascinating experiment to run two lunchrooms side by side – one with decent food and silverware, and the other with the current mass-produced wasteful mess. Wouldn't the students act more responsibly in the former?

  40. I don't have children, so this isn't intended to be sarcstic, but, at what age can children use knives/forks to cut up food (such as a whole piece of chicken?). I mean, I assume high school isn't a problem for that part of the question, but what about kndergarten, even other lower grades?

    And, as an out of the box idea, maybe students could bring plates and silverware from home and take it home each day to wash? I thought of that when someone mentioned carrying a mug around.

  41. I am all for lowering costs and lowering the amount of plastics we waste, but before calling a dishwasher more green, consider the implications of the volume of soaps added to water (and creation of plastics vs creation of soaps & metal spoons, etc – it is a much bigger picture). Don't get me wrong, if the end 'green' results are roughly even between sporks and using a dishwasher, then comparing costs and the usefulness of teaching small ones to use silverware are the next two (tied for me) in importance.

  42. @Anonymous 9:43 AM – My two and a half year old son uses a metal spoon, fork and knife at home. He's not terribly dexterous with them but he's learning. I would assume by kindergarten he should be fairly proficient.

  43. One thing to consider regarding the ROI for the dishwasher is you're assuming that labor remains the same. At our school, they would have to hire and additional worker (or pay overtime to the current staff) in order to run the dishwasher. That fact makes it a lot less cost effective to switch to reusable trays and silverware. The school would love to switch, but at the end of the day, they don't have the money to do so.

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