UT labs recycle foam packaging using Green Fee funding

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Environmental and biological science senior Nicolas Kuzola explains the Styrofoam recycling program ouside of Robert A. Welch Hall Monday afternoon. The program is funded by the UT Green Fee Initiative, which funds green projects on campus.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The plastic foam packaging that often accompanies shipments to UT laboratories is now making its way to a recycling center instead of landfills with the help of funding from student fees.

During the second collection Monday, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry recycled an estimated 120 pounds of foam packaging, said environmental science and biological sciences senior Nicholas Kuzola, who is helping with the effort. Styrofoam is a trademark of the Dow Chemical Company on a specific type of plastic foam more commonly used in construction and craft applications.

Karen Browning, associate chemistry and biochemistry professor, and alumna Maria Moura applied to the UT Green Fee Committee last year to start the program. The Green Fee, which uses $5 from the fees each student pays during the fall and spring semesters and $2.50 during summer sessions to fund green projects on campus, allocated $7,200 to the project. This money is used to fund plastic foam pickup.

“A lot of labs have a lot of Styrofoam, and we would just stack it up in the corner,” Browning said. “We didn’t want to throw it away, and finally it was like, ‘We’ve got to get rid of it.’”

The material is brought to the loading dock at Welch Hall, where it is then loaded onto a truck that takes it off campus to a dumpster at the Pickle Research Center in northwest Austin.

When the dumpster is full, HDi Plastics, a recycling company based out of Austin, collects the material.

“They melt it down, infuse it with a little more plastic, make pellets out of it and then they sell it back,” Kuzola said. “That’s how they even out their balance.”

The Green Fee aims to fund projects that will eventually become self-sustaining, and both Karen Blaney, the Green Fee’s program coordinator, and Browning hope that their program will be considered successful enough by the University that it becomes a regular program.

However, that depends on the amount of material that labs need to dispose of and the cost effectiveness of doing that by recycling.

“We’re testing the reliability of this logistical process and the quantity,” Blaney said. “No one really knows how much Styrofoam is on campus.”

Printed on Thursday, December 4th, 2012 as: UT labs recycle foam