North Carolina School Rations Utensils as Supply Chain Crisis Worsens

By Prakash Gogoi | October 23, 2021
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Plastic utensils scatter across a parking lot as police investigate a looted grocery store during widespread unrest following the death of George Floyd on May 31, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Image: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The U.S. is grappling with a supply chain crisis, which is affecting several aspects of society. Shipping containers are piling up at ports, businesses are worried about their bottom lines, and inflationary pressure is raising prices of everyday goods. In North Carolina, New Bern High School has tasked cafeteria workers with handing out utensils individually to each student.

“We have the cashiers giving out one per student,” Lauren Weyand, Craven County nutrition director, said to WITN. The county is also facing difficulty procuring containers and five-compartment lunch trays. “We have them cutting the containers so they’re using both sides. So the closed compartment, they cut that and then they’re able to use both sides. So it’ll last twice as long,” Weyand added.

On Oct. 7, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released data showing that food prices were at the highest ever in a decade. As such, consumers have been forced to look for other options.

For instance, Weyand stated that they had to think out of the box with regards to meeting food requirements for the county, and have now begun procuring meat directly from growers and processors inside North Carolina.

Ports around the U.S. are experiencing delays, with shipping containers piling up and shipping costs increasing. Many companies are stuck in a situation where they are incapable of obtaining the goods they need. Importers and retailers have been disproportionately affected.

Companies like Apple, Whirlpool, and Peloton have warned consumers about potential price surges and product shortages. Major companies that have massive cash reserves may be able to weather the storm. However, smaller businesses dependent on imports must choose between pausing operations or paying much higher shipping costs for goods that will arrive after several months as opposed to weeks.

On Oct. 18, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles had a record 157 ships waiting to dock and unload. Among these, 97 ships were reported to be container ships holding cargo that might not reach the market in time for the holiday shopping season.

Kip Louttit, head of the Marine Exchange, stated that prior to the pandemic, the highest ever number of ships that had waited outside the ports to anchor was 17.

With regard to the automobile sector, manufacturing plants are idling away, waiting for supplies of key components such as semiconductors. The same scenario exists for other manufacturers stuck without enough supplies to run their plants. Major companies have warned that items like video games, smartphones, bicycles, and more could be scarce during the holiday season.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the standard global supply-demand patterns. For instance, demand for goods in the U.S. spiked as the economy began to open after the initial wave of the pandemic.

However, the demand for Western goods in Asian markets has continued to be muted because they have largely been closed down. This has created an imbalance in shipping container flows to and from the U.S. Global port closures and factory shutdowns exacerbated issues, leading to the current supply chain crisis.

Some experts believe that the supply situation could be improving, given that ocean shipping rates have been declining since September. However, there are also indications that supply stressors could last at least until the early months of 2022.