Elementary Students Pioneer Foam Recycling Program

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Students at an elementary school in Stockton, Calif. are taking local environmental matters into their own hands with a project to recycle waste generated in their school cafeteria.

The project targets recycling the polystyrene (Styrofoam) trays notoriously associated with many school lunches, reports Greener Package.

As a testament to the value of local partnerships, Westwood Elementary School partnered with a nearby manufacturing plant to collect, clean and donate the Styrofoam trays so they could be reused in non-foodservice foam products.

With the help of its students, the elementary school reduced its waste by 20 percent and recycled 90 percent of its lunch trays. Photo: Recordnet.com

With the help of its students, Westwood Elementary School reduced its waste by 20 percent and recycled 90 percent of its lunch trays. Photo: Craig Sanders/The Record

Recycling polystyrene is no easy task. According to the American Chemistry Council, recycling is often not available for the material because it does not make economic sense for many recycling plants to accept the material.

In other words, all of the qualities that make Styrofoam a convenient, lightweight, strong and high-performing storage product go against the mechanics of recycling. It is simply not an easy material to recycle, making Westwood Elementary’s partnership all the more impressive.

Finding new uses for difficult-to-recycle products such as Styrofoam has made a significant difference in the school’s waste output, reducing its waste pickup from five days a week to four. This has provided noteworthy savings for the already budget-strapped school.

The manufacturing plant that accepts the foam lunch trays, Dart Container Corporation, hopes that by accepting the school’s material, it will raise awareness about the possibilities of foam recycling throughout California.

The company is even pushing to get Styrofoam recycling incorporated into Los Angeles’ curbside recycling collections.

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  1. My wife is an elementary art teacher in Indianapolis, IN. The school at which she was teaching also used these Styrofoam trays. She was appalled that the trays were just thrown away after use, so she decided to make an announcement to all of the students to save the clean-looking trays to be used for print-making projects.

    Also, she uses Styrofoam egg cartons for paint holders, cereal boxes for crates, and toilet-paper rolls for additional projects. I think these are great ideas. Similarly, she doesn’t have much of a budget for art supplies, so this is a win/win situation for the school and the environment.

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