School Foam Recycling


Kids with foam lunch trays

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 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.

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.

How to Create a School Foam Lunch Tray Recycling Program


  • The first step in creating a school foam lunch tray recycling program is determining how the lunch trays will be transported to a recycler. Options include- Your school arranges for transportation itself or through PTA or your school works with the distributor that sells your school lunch trays on a take-back program. Please note, Dart does not manufacture school lunch trays and is not able to collect them.
  • Next, show the following video of a successful foam lunch tray recycling program to your students.
  • Discuss the video with your students and ask how they would like to design a program.
  • Research recycling facilities in your area that accept foam and determine their requirements for the cleanliness and packing of the used trays.
  • Establish a target recycling goal. Remember, 100% diversion may not be realistic and does not need to be achieved for a successful program. Depending on the requirements of your recycler, not all trays will be suitable for recycling.



girl holding a picture of a woman packing lunch trays for recycling
  • Educate students about the cleanliness requirements, cleaning, and stacking of the trays.
  • Create condiment stations to minimize the amount of 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 used during lunch.
  • Place the trays in a sealed bag and repack them into their original carton.
  • Set-up a storage area for the used trays before they are sent to recycling.
  • Transport the material to a foam collection center.

Keep the Enthusiasm Going!

  • Keep a tally of the quantity of foam used and how much is recycled. Maintain this information to measure the success of the program.
  • Determine the number of recycling stations needed.
  • Use posters, newsletters, flyers and announcements 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 X% this week and reduced our trash collection by X days per week."
  • 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.
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