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Milk carton shortage impacts schools across New York, could last into 2024

Milk is displayed at a grocery store in Philadelphia, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Food and Drug Administration officials issued guidance that says plant-based beverages don't pretend to be from dairy animals – and that U.S. consumers aren't confused by the difference.
Matt Rourke
AP (file photo)
Many schools across central and northern New York have started purchasing milk in gallon jugs and will pour the milk into cups as a shortage of paper milk cartons continues.

A milk carton shortage is impacting school districts nationwide, including those across central and northern New York.

A shortage of pint-sized milk cartons is making it difficult for school districts to serve milk to students. Patrick Penfield, professor of supply chain practice at Syracuse University, said this issue started when paper factories started to go out of business due to COVID-19.

“During COVID, a lot of the schools weren’t in session and so there really wasn’t any need for milk cartons,” Penfield said. “So that was one part of the supply chain and then the actual carton producers started to go out of business and started to close down facilities.”

Central New York State Sen. John Mannion called on the state education department to ensure students have access to milk in schools. The education department released guidance this week on serving milk in schools including pouring milk from larger containers into individual cups, offering one type of milk instead of a variety, with a last resort of not offering fluid milk altogether.

Mannion said while the State Education Department’s response is commendable, the issue has two urgent parts.

“We’ve got two big things that I think are really negative here that means we have to address it with a high level of urgency,” Mannion said. “Number one, kids and families are dependent on that milk. It’s nutritious, they have it in school, in many ways, there is not any other alternative at all. And number two we have farmers out there that have this product, this is a perishable product, milk prices are low right now so we don’t want to close this market.”

Mannion said the state education department should continue to monitor the situation.

“All we can ask is that in this, what’s called an emergency period of time, that they continue to make changes to make sure that kids are getting the nutrition that they need to be successful and beyond,” Mannion said.

Tom Colabufo, the superintendent of schools at Central Square Central School District in Oswego County, said his district has already bought thousands of single-use cups which students will be able to get filled with milk. Even though Central Square schools will continue to serve milk during the free breakfast and lunch, Colabufo said parents should not have to be concerned about nutrition loss.

“In a way, it puts it on parents even harder,” Colabufo said. “And we try to be able to alleviate things from parents and so they know when kids are at school that they’re going to be able to get two meals.”

For him, the shock lies more in how long the issue may last.

“The big shock was last week when the New York State Education Department had also come out with the United States Department of Agriculture, came out and said that this was a lot bigger than we anticipated and we thought that it would be rectified relatively soon.”

Penfield said cartons may not be available until early 2024.

Abigail is a temporary WRVO News Reporter/Producer working on regional and digital news stories. She graduated from SUNY Oswego in 2022 where she studied English and Public Relations. Abigail enjoys reading, writing, exploring CNY and spending time with family and friends. Abigail first joined the WRVO team as a student reporter in June 2022.