For Schools


Start a School Recycling Program

Many school lunch programs use low-cost single-use foam #6 food trays to serve hundreds of meals every day. By recycling foam trays schools can save money, reduce waste and lower their carbon footprint. Recycling can lead to a 20% to 40% savings in trash collection fees alone by lowering the amount of material accumulated for trash pickup. The foam trays that otherwise would go to the landfill are instead used to create new products – from picture frames to designer molding. And producing new products from recycled foam requires less energy and materials than manufacturing products from virgin materials.

Find a Facility

To get started recycling foam #6 at your school, first research recycling facilities in your area that accept post-consumer foam. Ask the facilities about their requirements for the cleanliness and packing of the used trays. Some recycling facilities require that the used foam be sealed in bags. Your school may be able to simply repack the used trays into their original cartons.

Find Foam Recycling Facilities


Next, develop a plan to transport the trays to the recycling facility. Some recyclers will pick up recycling materials for a fee. To save on recycling costs, dedicated faculty members may be willing to drop off the trays at recycling locations in the community.

Set Up Recycling Stations

In the cafeteria or lunch area, set up recycling stations where students can clean and stack their trays. First, determine the number of recycling stations needed and the best location for each station. For each recycling station, provide a sturdy trash container and a table or cart on which to stack the used trays.

Each student should empty their tray in the trash, using their utensils and napkins to wipe off any food residue before stacking the trays for recycling. Some schools train selected students to monitor the recycling stations and discard any trays that are not clean enough to recycle.

Ketchup, mustard and other condiments are a primary source of contamination for school lunch trays. To reduce waste and keep lunch trays cleaner, some schools set up condiment stations. The stations result in condiment portion control, which is another potential source of savings.


Establish an area for storing the used trays until they are delivered to a recycling facility. If the trays are stored outdoors, the collection bins should be fully enclosed to reduce the risk of litter, keep pests out and keep the trays dry.

Educate Students and Faculty

For a successful foam #6 recycling program, it is essential to educate students and faculty members about the benefits and rewards of recycling, and how the program works. This can even be incorporated into a classroom lesson about environmental impact and responsibility.

See foam recycling lesson ideas.

  • Have instructors discuss with students their ideas about the program. Why should they recycle? What is the goal? How can they contribute to the program’s success?
  • Use posters, newsletters, flyers and announcements to build interest in the program.
  • Post clear and visible signage in the cafeteria.
  • Focus attention on the program through media campaigns, giveaways, poster contests and tie-ins to other school events.
  • Set up a recognition program to reward students for outstanding recycling efforts. For example, students could earn rewards if the school reaches (and maintains) a 75% diversion rate for foam trays.
  • Set realistic goals. Depending on the types of food being served, not all trays will be suitable for recycling. A program does not have to hit 100% diversion to be deemed a success.

Education and promotion should continue after the program launches. To ensure ongoing success, frequently remind students of the importance of recycling foam products and cleaning off their trays properly.

Measure Success

To monitor success of the recycling program, track and periodically announce the results of the recycling efforts to students and faculty. For example, “This week we successfully reduced our cafeteria waste by 50%. Instead of 24 bags going to the landfill, we sent only 12 bags."