California Serves up New Milestone in Foam School Lunch Tray Recycling

A collaborative effort involving public school systems, a waste hauler, a foodservice distributor, and Dart Container Corp. to recycle foam school lunch trays has hit a new milestone in California – with more than one million trays now being collected and recycled each month.

Tray by tray, the state's largest volunteer lunch tray recycling effort plays to the interests of school systems eager to maintain costs without jeopardizing the environment and student health, and at the same time finding new uses for school foam lunch trays that are diverted from landfills and reprocessed into premium picture frames, interior molding and other uses.

In lean budget times, the savings achieved using and recycling foam lunch trays as opposed to more expensive alternatives can be profound:  The Long Beach Unified School District, which uses roughly 7 million foam lunch trays a year, estimates it will save $1 million a year through its recycling efforts.

"Dart is extremely proud of this milestone, which demonstrates to other schools, businesses and governments how infrastructure can be created to recycle foam,'' said Michael Westerfield, corporate director of recycling programs for Dart, the nation's largest manufacturer of foam food service products.  "Foam can be recycled, and we've seeded this effort to showcase that fact – even though as a company we don't even manufacture foam school lunch trays.''

Through the effort at several participating school districts in California, students clean their trays and stack them in school cafeterias, where they are then collected and delivered to Dart by P & R Paper.  

"Dart should be commended for the work it is doing in raising awareness about the recyclability of foam, and for all of its efforts to divert waste from local landfills, or worse, finding its way into the environment through littering and other careless consumer disposal,'' said Christine Flowers, with Keep California Beautiful.

In schools and businesses in California and throughout the United States, Dart is promoting on-site recycling efforts through a range of programs.  Through Dart's CARE (Cups Are REcyclable) Program, businesses and institutions lease a densifier – which reduces a mountain of foam products into a size that fits into a five-gallon bucket.  The densifiers help reduce the amount of space required to store collected foam, which minimizes the number of recycling trips and ultimately helps reduce the carbon footprint for the recycling process.  

Once the foam has been compacted, Dart transports the material to its facilities in Lodi and Corona, Calif., and other parts of the country.  To date, Dart has placed more than 35 densifiers in businesses, institutions, and schools.

Through the Recycla-Pak program, Dart provides businesses with special boxes that serve as collection devices and shipping cartons, which can then be mailed to Dart for recycling. The company recently recycled its 1,000th Recycla-Pak in 2010.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) recently honored Dart as a recipient of its 2010 Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) award, which publicly recognizes California businesses and nonprofit organizations for their outstanding waste reduction efforts. The Association of Washington Business also recently awarded Dart with a 2010 Conservation and Pollution Prevention Award for its environmental policies and overall stewardship at its Tumwater facility.

Often improperly called "Styrofoam," a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, Dart's products are recyclable and reusable.  Foam products generate less waste in their production than paper alternatives, are stable and safe in landfills, and burn cleanly in modern municipal energy-from-waste facilities.