Making Foam Recyclable For Schools

As schools and districts approach the future, they are continually presented with issues related to waste and budgets. A recent study of middle school students by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that the average student generated over half a pound of waste per day. Only about a quarter of the waste generated was food waste, the rest was made up of wrappers, trays and other waste products. This leaves schools with a question on how they can solve the waste issue.

Six school districts in places like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando, saw this as an opportunity to switch to a new type of tray for their schools. Using a compostable paper product, they are trying to limit the amount of waste that they are generating within their schools. They were even able to mitigate some of the cost issues that are present with compostable products, though they are still more expensive per unit than polystyrene. 

While this is a noble goal, there are some serious issues with their plan.

"There are no commercial composters that can handle over 10 million pounds of paper plates (based on the weight of 2,250 million paper plates) these six districts will produce," said Kerry Flickner, National Director - Waste Solutions at Foodservice Sustainability Solutions. Just the district in New York City serves over 150 million meals on EPS foam trays, cups and bowls annually.

Schools aimed to utilize their own composting sites but few, if any, are going to have the ability to compost plates onsite. These plates and trays will need to utilize an industrial composter, where the temperatures get warm enough for the break down of the products to happen.

Instead of trying to use difficult compostable products, foam recycling is becoming an obvious solution for these school districts.

Foam trays are already being recycled in communities around the country. In Houston, the seventh largest school district in the country, Flickner and FSS introduced the school to foam recycling and has already saved the school significant money on waste disposal and product costs. In just two months, the district has seen a 75% reduction in products in their waste stream and has reduced the number of dumpster pick-ups by 48 days.

Other organizations like Dart Container offer schools great ideas to recycle foam. Westwood Elementary in Stockton, California was able to implement a foam-recycling program in the school. The school was able to save money in their budget by cutting one day of trash pick up and moving to cheaper foam products from more costly paper products.

As school budgets become tighter, foam trays offer schools an obvious solution to help cut down on costs and have a positive environmental impact. Schools are already saving money with these trays and are cutting their trash costs. If your school is interested in saving money that can be spent instead on educational costs, we offer advice and information that can be useful to you and your school. Check out the link below to find the steps you need to start a recycling program in your school.

Goldsberry, Clare. “Making EPS foam part of a sustainable solution" Plastics Today. 1 June, 2015. Web. 4 June, 2015.