EPS Recycling Specialist, providing total solution to polystyrene recycling .Solve the problem of environmental pollution by bubble. ">San Marcos Elementary School fifth-grader Carlos Ortega checks out a plant pot that was made from recycled EPS lunch trays. A Thermo Compactor melts down the trays and turns out recyclable blocks (pictured behind). — Don Boomer |
SAN MARCOS — San Marcos Elementary serves more than 800 lunches a day, and that used to mean bags and bags of trash filled with?EPS trays headed to a landfill.
Not anymore. Last year the school solved the vexing problem of how to better dispose of the lunch trays and have kept thousands of bags of trash from being dumped into landfills. GreenMax
“Since I started working in this district, I’ve wanted to find ways to recycle these trays,” Principal Stephanie Wallace said. “When we opened this school (after rebuilding in 2010), we wanted to be more green than before. And we serve so many lunches.”
The solution came in the form of the Thermo Compactor machine. Eight months into the pilot program, San Marcos Unified School District officials are calling it a success.
“Before, they were producing 30 to 35 bags of trash a day,” said Western Recycling Technologies co-founder Robert Cargeeg, who introduced the polystyrene recycling option to the district at a conference.
Now, custodians are hauling just a few bags of trash to the Dumpsters daily. Officials estimate that the program has prevented between 3,500 and 4,500 bags of trash from going to dumps.
The district’s Child Nutrition Services department bought the machine and accompanying tray stackers for about $15,000. Although the district said the program has led to improved efficiency and probably some savings in waste disposal expenses, cutting costs was not the purpose.
“The goal of the program was to find a recycling solution,” said Child Nutrition Services Director Dena England.
Added Wallace: “We have in-class recycling for plastics and paper, so this was just another component.”
England said she works closely with the district’s maintenance director, and the two had been searching for a way to reduce lunch waste. England looked at other serving options, but at 3 cents apiece, the foam trays are hard to beat.
San Marcos Elementary is the first school is Southern California to use the Thermo Compactor, Cargeeg said. The machine is ideal for schools and hospitals because it’s designed to handle?EPS that contains food “contaminants” — meaning the trays don’t have to be rinsed before entering the compactor.
The compactor works by essentially reversing the polystyrene manufacturing process. Up to 1,200 trays are placed in the compactor, which is heated internally to 400 degrees. The?EPS waste is melted to a liquid resin, and then cooled.
What emerges is a rectangular 7-inch-thick, 2 1/2-foot-long block. No vapors are released during the process, Cargeeg said, and the machine is run after school.
Western Recycling picks up the blocks, which are sent to a partner recycler in Northern California. There, the blocks are turned into items like CD cases and picture frames.
Western Recycling also handles some of the repurposing, making flower pots from the melted?EPS that are given back to schools to use for fundraisers.
Students caught on easily, Wallace said, hanging on to the tray as they dumped waste in the trash, then placing the tray in a stacker — a specially designed cart that custodians wheel over to the compactor.
“We’re helping the environment instead of destroying it,” said Carlos Ortega, 10, the student council president.
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