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Carlsbad schools recycle foam trays

CARLSBAD — Carlsbad Unified School District took an extra step for Earth Day. The school district celebrates Earth Day year-round by participating in a program that recycles students’ foam lunch trays, often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam.

The school district, in conjunction with P&R Paper Supply, participates in the “Going the Extra Mile” foam lunch tray recycling program. The recycling program helps the district teach the students an important lesson in sustainability.

“Our Tap N’ Stack program is a perfect opportunity to educate students on the importance of recycling and get them actively involved,” said Susan Renaud, Nutrition Services Operations supervisor, Carlsbad Unified School District. “This program has been a positive influence and we are thankful to P&R Paper Supply for working with us to provide an easy and affordable solution to recycle our foam lunch trays.”

There are nine schools in the district participating in the recycling program and the district is currently recycling 6,700 foam lunch trays each week, 33,500 a month. The foam trays are picked up once a week by a P&R truck, and taken to Dart Container Corporation in Corona, where they are processed for recycling. From there, the foam lunch trays go from Dart to a local manufacturer in Pomona, NEPCO, which then uses the material to make picture frames and crown molding.

“We’re really proud of this program because it helps get children involved in recycling and also gives foam lunch trays a second chance,” said Joe Maiberger, Chief Financial Officer of P&R Paper Supply. “It is great that so many school districts in California are eager to work with us to participate in a program that is beneficial to the students, the district and the environment.”


Stacy King May 15, 2017 at 10:43 pm

As a person who has been intimately involved in helping to implement this tap and stack process, I would like to make one thing clear. Styrofoam Brand Foam is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company (“Dow”). Styrofoam is generically used to describe expanded polystyrene foam products like disposable coffee cups, coolers and other foam packaging materials, but aren’t necessarily branded, thus P & R Paper Supply calls the trays “foam”. The difference is similar to the difference between Kleenex and tissue. They vary slightly, but they’re essentially made of the same stuff.

Regardless of whether the school lunch trays are made of foam or Styrofoam, the material never breaks down. It can persist in the environment for over a million years. The chemical polystyrene is not biodegradable. Additionally, it can also break into small pieces and choke animals that ingest it by clogging their digestive systems. Styrofoam and other plastics currently make up about 30 percent of the landfill volume in the United States.

P & R Paper Supply might believe that using slightly different terminology will make it seem less harmful to our environment. However, the foam trays have a limit to their upcycling potential. They can only be reshaped and reused if they are fairly clean, stacked perfectly in a box that won’t smell for a week while waiting for pickup. Ensuring that the trays are clean enough to get up-cycled means that breakfasts or lunches with syrup or ketchup or other sticky or liquid food material can put the entire batch of foam trays in jeopardy of being thrown away and those that aren’t can be shipped off to China.

It’s been quite a process for our school to implement this tap and stack program. Parents volunteered every day during lunch to help the children learn the tap and stack process. In doing so, we decided to start a Green Team run by parent volunteers to help educate the students about lunch options. Then we got “green” students to help us.

Parents investigated other material tray options that are biodegradable or compostable. We taught the children which food could be composted, which food could be saved in their lunch boxes and eaten later (think granola bars), which food they should talk to their parents about not packing (think warm string cheese).

Then we worked on teaching about plastic waste from the packaged utensils. If the children need a fork, they have to open a plastic non recyclable pouch with the utensil, a straw and a napkin. We talked about bringing utensils or napkins from home if they brought a lunch or drinking the milk without a straw. We talked about the impact of straws on our environment and encouraged the students to bring reusable containers if they brought a lunch from home. Finally, we raised money by selling recycled bags to convert the school to compostable trays on dry lunch days, not just Earth Day.

The process was a labor of love and I would like to quietly honor The Green Team parents and students at our school for all of the hours that were put in to researching, brainstorming, volunteering informing and never giving up.

Steve Nordquist June 10, 2017 at 6:48 pm

You rock, Stacy! Looking forward to more optics and data from Carlsbad to keep our loops hermetic and sprouted veg. salad aesthetic.

I guess I’m not going to be able to turn (sidecycle?) any diverted takeaway that’s gunky into perlite, so any massive washup savings despite that fat roll of startup and ongoing training is going to be fine listening (or one hopes, a grody spreadsheet.)

Summer semester love, scholars.

Stacy King May 17, 2017 at 1:52 am

Could you please tell me where my comments from yesterday ended up regarding foam trays at Carlsbad schools? Do you plan to publish them or should I seek out another outlet?

Thank you,


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