An on-campus group at Texas Tech University has made an investment in a new foam recycling program in order to decrease waste around campus and develop new scholarship opportunities. The University Student Housing and Hospitality Services recently purchased a machine to densify – or compress – discarded polystyrene foam material. Once processed, the compressed foam is molded into a dense brick, which can be sold to manufacturers for use in the production of new commercial goods. Polystyrene foam, which is often mistakenly referred to Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, makes up several forms of single-use products commonly found on college campuses, such as hot beverage cups and take-away food containers.
The project brings together students and administrators working to build a more sustainable campus life at Texas Tech. The team starts this project by collecting designated bags of used foam and separating it by hand. After this semester’s move-in weekend, a popular time for shipping sensitive electronics or materials, the group collected 15 bags full of unwanted foam. Once processed and made into the dense brick, the end-product will be purchased for about $.30 per pound, or $11 total for each.
According to Jackie Kimbler, unit manager for the University Student Housing department, these recycling efforts pay off. Dollars made from the program go directly into a scholarship fund for Texas Tech students. Kimbler comments, “Last year we collected about $37,000 that all went back to the students.” While the sustainability project began as a paper, plastic and cardboard collection effort, the students are excited to add polystyrene foam to their capabilities.
Caleb Crow, the unit supervisor of Energy Management and Sustainability, adds, “Just six years ago, we didn’t have a recycling program; now we outperform the city of Lubbock.”
Next on the Texas Tech student agenda is preparing to participate in the nationwide recycling event, Recylemania. In this effort, more than 400 colleges and universities compete in a six-week long collection and recycling challenge. Rankings and competition stats are updated weekly online, creating a friendly competition amongst the participating schools. According to Melanie Tatum, manager for the University Student Housing department, “Last year we beat the University of Texas by one point. We’re hoping to beat them again this year.”