After several delays, Dart Container Corp. has launched a new wash-and-dry line at its Corona, Calif., manufacturing plant for recycling dirty food-service polystyrene at the site, furthering its recycling commitment in the U.S.
The line, which began operating the week of May 16, can clean slightly more than 3 million pounds of PS foam per year, much of it food-service trays from public school lunchrooms.
The wash-and-dry line is only for dirty foam, said Michael Westerfield, corporate director for recycling operations. The line will have good volume right from the get-go, and the firm will be able to recycle 100 percent of the lunch trays it receives, he said.
The volume will take care of itself. That is the No. 1 phone call we get, inquiries to recycle PS food-service from schools, Westerfield said by phone from his Redlands, Calif., office.
In 2010, the Corona plant processed about 240,000 pounds of foam, or 20,000 pounds a month.
Mason, Mich.-based Dart, which is the largest global producer of PS foam cups in the U.S., does not make school food-service trays, which it will be cleaning and turning into flake. But the firm began recycling them two years ago at the urging of a distributor that sells PS lunch trays to roughly 80 percent of the schools in Southern California and collects them for recycling at a rate of roughly 1 million a month.
We're investing in the wash-and-dry line because we feel the growth for us in recycling is in the food-service area, Westerfield said. The program is a way to educate people about the recyclability of PS food-service products and foam used for packaging electronic and computer goods, he added.
It is an opportunity for school districts to educate students about environmental issues, he said. It is something tangible they can see. They can learn about recycling and visibly see the material they can divert from the waste stream.
Dart's Corona plant works with 13 California school districts and is in discussions to recycle food-service products with the state's Long Beach Unified School District, which uses 1.2 million lunch trays annually. Dart works with another 20-25 school districts nationwide.
The wash-and-dry line originally was scheduled to open last fall, as the equipment was ordered in January 2010. But installing the equipment which includes a grinder, washing tumblers, a drying unit and densifier and getting it to run efficiently took more time than expected.
The line's launch is coming on the heels of a $25 million class-action lawsuit filed by now-shuttered PS food-service recycler Evergreen Partnering Group Inc. of North Reading, Mass. EPG filed the suit May 9 against Dart and four other PS food-service manufacturers in the U.S., as well as the American Chemistry Council, accusing them all of collusion to prevent PS closed-loop recycling.
The Corona wash line is just one in a series of initiatives taken by Dart in the past three years to establish a PS recycling infrastructure. The recycled PS is not used in Dart's products because it has not been approved for food-contact applications. Other initiatives include:
* PS foam drop-off centers at all of its 13 U.S. plants. It added a drop-off center at its Mexico City plant in July.
* The Recycla-Pak program, begun in Florida two years ago as a pilot for restaurants to recycle foam cups, is now nationwide. Under the program, restaurants and other businesses fill Dart-designed corrugated cardboard collection bins, which hold 10-12 pounds of cups, and ship them pre-paid to the firm.
* Dart partnered with 20th Century Fox to recycle more than 7,500 pounds of foam material from the set of X-Men: First Class, filmed in Brunswick, Ga. Dart picked up foam products used on the set and transported the materials to its nearby manufacturing plants in Lithonia, Ga., and Plant City, Fla.
The company received the Waste Reduction Award Program award in 2010 from the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Reduction for waste diversion efforts at its Corona and Lodi plants, its reuse and recycling programs, and its establishment of foam recycling drop-off sites for the public.
Another PS product maker, Solo Cup Co. of Lake Forest, Ill., also launched a recycling initiative last month, teaming with TerraCycle Inc. of Trenton, N.J., which works with schools and nonprofits to recycle snack-food packaging.
Solo will make a 2-cent donation to schools, nonprofit groups or Keep America Beautiful for each trademarked Solo Squared PS drinking cup that is collected and sent, at Solo's cost, to TerraCycle, which turns the recycled material into benches, playground equipment and other outdoor products.
Dart's other main recycling effort, the Recycla-Pak program with restaurants, has more than 1,000 Recycla-Pak containers nationwide. It's going to continue to grow, Westerfield said. It is good for restaurants because they don't want to be in the waste management business. They want someone to make it easy for them to recycle.
Right now most of the participants are independent restaurants, but he said a couple of chains are kicking the tires on it.
In its push to demonstrate that PS foam can be recycled, Dart has worked to help expand the number of California cities recycling it to 43 up from 35 a year ago. That gives more than 20 percent of the population in California access to PS recycling, the company said.
However, takeout food-service containers made of PS have also been a target of bans in the state. Some 36 cities and three communities in California most of them adjacent to the ocean have banned them.
The PS foam Dart recycles at the Corona plant is used by Timbron International Inc. in Stockton, Calif., to make interior moldings, and by Nepco Industrial Co. Ltd. to make high-end picture frames at its plant in Chino, Calif.
In fact, Nepco has increased its workforce from three to 30 in the past three years, according to Westerfield.
Nepco can sell every frame it makes, Westerfield said. Their problem is that they can't get all the material they need. There is real market demand for recycled PS in the United States. It is not just the export markets that want the material.