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Company starts polystyrene recycling program at Penn State.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

For those of you who, like me, believed that polystyrene recycling was virtually dead in non-commercial foodservice, apparently it still has a pulse. I received a press release late Wednesday afternoon from Dart Container Corp. announcing that the campus dining program at Penn State University is working with Dart to recycle polystyrene.

The effort, the newest part of Penn State’s sustainability initiative, will take place in the university’s dining commons as well as several retail outlets. Bins into which students and other customers can dump their polystyrene will be installed in foodservice facilities, The polystyrene will be collected and sent to the university’s Office of Physical Plant, which has a recycling center. OPP employees will condense the polystyrene, which will then be picked up at Dart and taken to its headquarters, in nearby Lancaster, Pa., to be melted down and made into other useful articles.

I’ve not yet had a chance to talk with Penn State officials about this, so I’ll have more in the days to come. Back in the late 1980s, polystyrene recycling was hailed as the next “big thing” in the environmental movement. The petroleum-based material was going to collected in great quantities and remade into thousands of useful articles such as park benches.

The reality, as it turned out, was that it apparently cost more to collect and process the polystyrene than was profitable. So the initiative slowly seemed to die away. I know in New York City, where dozens of items are listed as “must recycles,” polystyrene is no longer in favor. Does this move by Penn State signal a swinging of the pendulum back in a positive direction? We’ll see.