In a meeting of bureaucratic minds usually reserved for national crises, the CIA, the Secret Service, eight federal departments and the Environmental Protection Agency convened May 9 to discuss polystyrene recycling. Despite some bad experi-ences, government officials met with a plastics industry group to discuss ways to recycle polysty-rene generated in their offices.
Some of the agencies already have tried recycling PS with varying success, while others are investigating the possibility of doing it for the first time. All of them have recycling programs for other materials in effect.
``We made them aware of several potential contractors who are ready and willing to handle their polystyrene at facilities close to Washington,'' said Betsy de Campos, director of environmental affairs for the Polystyrene Packaging Council.
The meeting, dubbed the ``polystyrene summit,'' came after several agencies requested information on PS recycling, and several others unsuccessfully tried programs of their own.
One of the latter was the General Services Administration, which has tried to institute PS recycling in its 26 cafeterias.
``Of the cafeterias we run, only six have polystyrene recycling programs now,'' said Stan Ismart, GSA recycling coordinator for the national capital region, which includes many of the government buildings in Washington. ``We have had resistance from our food-service concessionaires, and bad experiences, frankly.''
Ismart said GSA successfully has instituted recycling programs - in keeping with guidelines and mandates established for federal offices - for most other materials, including office paper, metal cans, glass and some plastics.
``We even went so far as to place prototype polystyrene melters right in some of the cafeterias that were supposed to melt it down and cut down the volume and consolidate the weight,'' he said.
``At one point we evacuated a building because the machine caught fire. The melt temperature had been set high enough to burn off the paper and other materials mixed in with the waste, but it was too hot for the styrene, which caught fire.''
Ismart said the agencies' facilities generate about 60,000 pounds of PS per year, mainly food-service items and packaging materials, including foamed PS from business equipment. The major problem has been contamination from food residues and extraneous materials,getting employees to separateand deposit trash properly, and collecting enough PS by weight to make collection and reprocessing possible and profitable.
``Unfortunately, the task of keeping track of the collections and bundling it has fallen most often to the concessionaires, who also worry about things like contamination and odor,'' Ismart said.
``Each agency has specific problems,'' said PPC spokeswoman Laurie Kusek. ``For instance, the cafeterias operated by the Smithsonian [Institution] are mainly patronized by visitors and not staff, which means it would be harder for the Smithsonian to get efficient separation and disposition of the food-service items, than with a staff which has been educated on how to participate.''
She noted that agencies like the Smithsonian might have higher contamination levels in their waste streams, but that the problems could be dealt with by the consolidators.
Ismart said GSA officials ``have every intention of doing it [polystyrene recycling] again on amore comprehensive basis.''
``We realize that the dayswhen people will collect it and take it away are over,'' he said.
De Campos said the meeting was productive. Participating in the meeting were representatives from the following departments: State, Defense, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, the Interior, and Labor.
Also attending were representatives of the National Institutes of Health and the Smithsonian Institution.
Local recycling industry officials included representatives from AB Consolidators Inc. of Hyattsville, Md.; Eagle Maintenance Co. of Washington; Browning Ferris Industries and Waste Systems Inc. both of Elkridge, Md.; and the National Polystyrene Recycling Co. of Bridgeport, N.J.