Foam in Foodservice

April 07, 2012

Foam foodservice and lunch tray recycling offers a unique opportunity for schools to:

Save money!

  • Foam lunch trays and foodservice products are significantly less expensive than the alternatives.
  • Recycling foam reduces the amount of material being accumulated for trash collection. This can result in as much as a 20-40% savings on collection fees.
  • The effort to keep the trays clean enough for recycling can result in portion control of condiments – save even more $!

Reduce Greenhouse Gasses!

  • Foam is a valuable resource. By reducing the amount of energy and materials used to make new products, recycling can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions are among the factors taken into account when calculating a product’s carbon footprint.

Create Jobs!

  • Recycling is a business and a growing one at that. The process of recycling helps create job opportunities on many levels – from the collection of such to use manufacture of new products using this material.

Reduce Landfill Use!

  • Less waste equals less landfill space. By recycling, the material is no longer entombed in a landfill, but processed to be made into new items – a second life for the foam rather than a single use.


How to Implement a School Foodservice Foam Recycling Program


  • Show the video of the program to the students.
  • Have the students and staff discuss their ideas about the program.
  • Do they want to recycle?
  • What is the recycling goal?*
  • How can they make this work best?

*100% diversion may not be realistic, and does not need to be achieved for a successful program. Not all trays will be suitable for recycling.


  • Educate students about the cleanliness requirements, cleaning, and stacking of the trays.
  • Create condiment stations or other types of control to help ensure the trays will meet the cleaning requirement with less condiments spilled onto the trays.
  • Create a dump station to remove tray contents. Turn tray upside down and knock it against the rim of the trash container. Wipe off excess condiments with napkin.
  • Repack the trays into their original carton. A sealed bag might be required to maintain a clean environment for storage.
  • Set up storage area for the used trays before they are sent to recycling.
  • Transport the material to a foam collection center.

Keep the Enthusiasm Going!

  • Identify the quantity of foam used and where it is located. Maintain this information to measure the success of the program
  • Determine the number of recycling stations needed.
  • Use posters, newsletters, flyers and announcement to build interest in the program.
  • Create clear and visible signage for the cafeteria at the recycling station.
  • Train selected students to monitor the stations and determine if the trays are clean enough for recycling.

Other Ideas

  • Periodically announce the results of the recycling efforts, i.e., “We successfully reduced our cafeteria waste by 50% this week so instead of 24 bags going to the landfill, only 12 were sent.”
  • Focus attention on the program through media campaigns, giveaways, poster contests, and tie-ins to other school events.
  • Research the possibility of recognition programs for the school as a result of the recycling efforts.
  • Frequently remind students of the importance of recycling the products and continually monitor the stations for ongoing success.