A small Massachusetts company hopes to turn a pilot program recycling polystyrene food trays in the Boston and Providence, R. I., public schools into a nationwide effort.
Evergreen Partnering Group Inc. has spent two years recycling used PS trays, cups and bowls and then putting the material back into more food-service products.
Now it hopes to start expanding its program to Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The North Reading, Mass., company plans to build a small recycling plant in the Atlanta area this year for schools in Gwinnett County, Ga., and is in talks about collecting materials from other schools districts in the metro Atlanta area, said President Michael Forrest. The company is in talks with Chicago and Los Angeles, and could start there as soon as six to eight months after Atlanta, he said.
The company presented its plans at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Global Plastics Environmental Conference, held Feb. 24-25 in Atlanta.
While other programs to recycle PS food-service items - like an earlier effort in Los Angeles schools - ultimately foundered, Forrest thinks he has found a model that will keep his program sustainable, given the currently high cost of virgin resin.
Under EPG's plan, the school system collects the PS items in cafeterias and ships it to an EPG recycling operation, all at no cost to EPG. EPG then cleans it, recycles it back into pellets and molds it into more food-service products that have about 20 percent recycled content, Forrest said.
It's a net savings for the schools, even if they pay to ship trays to EPG, because they avoid landfill costs, said Tony Mack, EPG vice president of development.
For example, schools in Providence had been paying $65,000 to landfill their PS products - but the schools spent only $45,000 to collect the material and ship it to EPG, Mack told the GPEC forum. Plus, the schools are happy to be part of a closed-loop recycling process, he said.
The company gets the raw material for free and spends 30-40 cents a pound to recycle it, Mack said.
Some of the recycled resin is put back into products for the schools, Forrest said. EPG has surplus recycled resin that it can sell or make into other products to capture business in other food-service markets.
``We really don't make our money selling that back to the schools,'' Forrest said. ``The resin left over is where we can build product.''
The company is talking with fast-food restaurants about using the recycled resin, particularly if they can market that they use recycled plastic collected in area schools in special promotions, Forrest said. And it is eyeing other large food-service companies working in college or health-care settings, he said.
While institutional food service is a high-volume, low-margin business dominated by large companies, EPG thinks it can fill niches such as specialty products or market trials for those fast-food firms, Forrest said.
EPG said it has worked out the bugs in the Boston and Providence systems and is ready to try its program on a wider basis.
``We kind of proved it out in Boston and then we expanded it to Providence,'' Forrest said. ``Now we're ready to commercialize it.''
EPG is in some ways a virtual company: the 10-person firm does not manufacture new food-service trays, preferring to contract production out to a plastic processor. The company has several executives with a background in PS food packaging, and Forrest said he ran a brokerage in Topsfield, Mass., that specialized in investments in the food-service industry.
In Boston, the school district actually runs the recycling plant, but other cities have said they don't want to follow that model, and want EPG to run the recycling operation, he said.
In Atlanta, the company plans to spend $700,000 to set up a recycling operation that could produce about 500,000 pounds of recycled pellets a year, Forrest said. The company plans for other cities to follow Atlanta.
``We do have a very aggressive five-year rollout,'' pegging six to 10 school districts, Forrest said.