Dart Container’s Michael Westerfield: Promoting the Recycling of a Material You Can’t Say is Recyclable
Do you think polystyrene isn’t recyclable? Dart Containers is trying to change that fallacy.
Let’s start off by listing some items that are recyclable: plastic bottles, newspaper, aluminum cans and foam cups, takeout containers and packaging.
Did that last one surprise you? It may have, because while there are foam-reprocessing plants, and neighborhoods participating in curbside foam recycling programs, many people still think of foam items — cups, to-go food containers and block packaging — as items that are not recyclable. The reason is that there are some restrictions that make it confusing on how we can talk about this material, but there are groups committed to educating the public about the recyclability of foam.
The technical name for foam is “expanded polystyrene,” but people often mistakenly call it Styrofoam. Styrofoam is a trademarked brand name, and those groups working hard to create access to polystyrene recycling cannot legally use the name when talking about foam. Another legal problem in the way of promoting foam recycling: the Federal Trade Commission’s requirement that in order to make an unqualified claim of recyclability of a material, 60% of the public must have access to recycle it.
Faced with these roadblocks, what can we do to promote foam recycling? We create programs, like Dart Container’s Recycla-Pak and CARE (Cups Are Recyclable) programs, and spread the word about Dart’s plant drop-offs, and community run drop-offs, while we continue to pursue curbside foam recycling programs in more neighborhoods.
The Recycla-Pak program is an easy way for any business to recycle its foam cups. The business simply needs to purchase a specially designed Recycla-Pak collection bin from Dart in which to store the cups. The Recycla-Pak collection bin doubles as the shipping carton used to recycle the collected cups at a Dart recycling facility.
The CARE program helps large users of foam foodservice products separate the foam from other products, consolidate the collected material and arrange to have it recycled. Recycled foam foodservice products can be reprocessed into premium picture frames, crown molding and many other products. This program is convenient for college campuses and other institutions that serve food in foam containers.
Since 73% of quick-service restaurants’ food leaves the restaurant, there is a good chance most foodservice foam will wind up at people’s homes. For this reason, Dart has been working with people in California to include foam in residential curbside programs.
As a result, California now has 67 communities that accept foam in their curbside recycling bins. If your city has not yet begun accepting foam curbside, check 1-800-RECYCLING’s recycling location search to see if you are living in, or near, a community with a foam drop-off program.
We want to spread the message about foam recycling where it exists. But, not being able to call it by the name it is recognized as, and not technically being able to say it is recyclable, can result in a blurry understanding for people. But, the fact is, as long as it has the chasing arrows triangle with “6” in the middle, it is technically recyclable.
So, while we cannot yet freely talk about Styro… errr, foam, and its ability to be recycle… errr, reprocessed into new products, we will keep trying to get to a point where people know and are recycling foam products with the #6.
For more information, or to see if your community has foam curbside recycling or a local drop-off center, visit dart.biz/recycle.Michael Westerfield is Corporate Director of Recycling Programs for Dart Container, a manufacturer of single-serve foodservice containers. Dart has pioneered on-site programs for large users of foam products, mail-back programs for users of foam products and curbside recycling programs for foam in coordination with material recovery facilities, as well as public drop-off programs.In addition to his responsibilities at Dart, Westerfield is a member of the Green Team San Joaquin and the City of Redlands Climate Action Task Force, where he served as co-chair for the Waste and Recycling Committee. He is currently Chair of the Public Affairs and Communication Committee for the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR).