While polystyrene foam foodservice items can certainly be found in school systems throughout the U.S. – from student lunch trays to teachers’ coffee cups – it’s not a widely known fact that these items are made of a recyclable material. School systems from early learning programs to top universities are working to change that by implementing foam recycling and educational platforms. Adding foam recycling to an institution not only creates learning opportunities for students, but it also removes unnecessary waste from local landfills.
In order to teach students the value that comes along with using sustainable products, the Porterville Unified School District in Porterville, CA, introduced a foam recycling program. The program allows district administrators to responsibly dispose of the 9,500 cafeteria serving trays used each day. According to Manuel Rodriguez, the district’s director of nutrition services, an on-site foam densifying machine processes 1,000 trays up to three times a day. The machine is used to melt the polystyrene foam into solid blocks of material that can then be used in the production of new consumer goods, such as picture frames and crown molding for homes. The program shows students the process of recycling, as well as the immediate impact their school district has on the community by diverting waste from landfills. Not only does this create a valuable learning opportunity for students, but it also allows the school system to continue to use polystyrene foam products, which can often cost much less than alternatives.
Higher education programs are also working with foam products to teach students and administrators the value of recycling programs. Pennsylvania State University has its own foam densifying machine, and uses it to compress products used throughout cafeterias and eateries on campus. By working with the university’s Office of Physical Plant, the Campus Sustainability Office, and Dart Container Corporation, students have access to foam drop-off locations at dining halls and popular gathering places throughout campus. Moreover, most locations contain signage noting exactly where the discarded foam will go – removed from campus by Dart to be processed and readied for new production – and how their work will impact the local community.
While these are just two case studies showing the positive effects of polystyrene foam recycling programs, school systems all over the U.S. are working to create similar opportunities. Understanding the immediate need for recycling programs and the difference they make in communities is a priority to organizations such as Dart Container Corporation. Finding recycling solutions that work for school systems is vital to the future of the foam recycling industry.