Liliana Rodriguez, 12, usually dumps her white Styrofoam lunch tray and its contents into the garbage when she’s finished eating in Nolan Middle School’s cafeteria.
But on Wednesday, something changed.
The sixth grader dropped her empty chocolate milk carton in the trash, walked over to a green bin and stacked the tray on a pile of others.
“They get recycled now and it’s gonna help the environment,” said Rodriguez, as a nearby classmate followed her lead.
Across town at Palmetto High School, students in the cafeteria replicated Nolan’s lunchtime routine. It’s all part of a new initiative the Manatee County School District started at the beginning of this year at the two schools to not only help the environment but raise money for the schools. District energy experts want the recycling to expand to other schools.
Disposable Styrofoam lunch trays formerly trashed at those schools are now transformed into plastic flower pots.
Trays are collected and placed in a green Thermo Compactor on campus.
“We load them in and run it for about five hours to melt them down into a thick block of hard plastic,” said Sandra Boyd, district director of food services.
Thermo Compactions Systems, a Lakeland based company, then takes the blocks and molds them into durable pots used for flowers, plants or other creations.
The pots are given back to the schools so students can sell them to raise funds for educational programs.
The cost, which Thermo Compaction and the district are still negotiating, will be split between the two entities, Boyd said.
The district spends about $600,000 on trash pick-up annually, said Patrick Gallagher, an energy and recycling specialist with the district’s energy department. But by recycling the refuse trays, he said, about $11,000 will be saved because less trash will be picked up.
The number of garbage bags filled daily at the two schools will be reduced from 100 to about 45 bags, Gallagher said.
District officials hope to do the same thing at the remaining middle and high schools, he said. Elementary schools use plastic trays.
“It’s our desire to have compactors in all the schools that use Styrofoam trays,” Gallagher said.