UW students get $90,000 to expand Styrofoam recycling program - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW students get $90,000 to expand Styrofoam recycling program

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PHOTO: UW-Madison PHOTO: UW-Madison

MADISON (WKOW) -- A group of UW-Madison students have gained national recognition for a sustainability project that's started a Styrofoam recycling program on campus.

Last month, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chose the team as one of seven nationwide to be awarded a $90,000 grant to continue and expand a project called Styrocycle.

The EPA estimates Styrofoam makes up 25 percent of our landfill space and it's not biodegradable. Biotechnology companies and labs go through a lot of the substance when shipping and receiving sensitive materials that need to remain in a controlled temperature.

Researchers estimate just on the UW campus, labs use 10-20,000 Styrofoam boxes every year. Most are used just once then sent to the landfill.

The team of four students, studying a variety of majors on campus, got together last year to find a way to recycle or reuse the materials. Since beginning, they've diverted five semi truck loads of Styrofoam from the landfills.

"They are taken to the city of Madison who either brings them to 'Unique' out in Waunakee, which turns them into picture frames, or they're given to local biotechnology employees who can reuse them rather than purchasing a new container," says UW junior Katelyn Budke.

The students researched how to best re-purpose the materials and how to properly clean the Styrofoam for reuse. The boxes still intact and useable are sent to three biotech companies in Madison, where students developed a partnership. What's not sent to be turned into consumer products can also be reused by the university's Surplus with a Purpose (SWAP) program.

"We take them out to SWAP where they're sold, people that need packing peanuts can pick them up," says Frank Kooistra, who works for the UW Office of Sustainability and 'We Conserve' and advises the students in their project.

The EPA grant will allow the project to continue and expand for at least another two years. Students presented Styrocycle last month at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. They're working with others at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to expand the program outside of Madison.

Craig Benson, one of the students' advisors and director of the Office of Sustainability, says it's been great to see the students grow and learn from the hands-on experience of the project.

"[The students] kind of came in not quite sure about how to do this or how to proceed and just to watch them grow, not only as students, but from the professional perspective," says Benson. "To really chart a pathway from this project, to plan it, schedule it, figure it out, get through the hurdles."

Benson tells 27 News the project has more than just a benefit on the environment, it saves the university as well as private companies involved a lot of money. They estimate it costs between $5 and $12 to buy a Styrofoam shipper but just a few dollars to recycle one.

Students hope they can expand Styrocyle to more biotech companies in Madison and other universities.

This program is just a start to tackling Styrofoam recycling in just one industry. For those who live in Madison, you can drop off packing peanuts or Styrofoam packaging materials at two sites in the city of Madison.

Visit the Streets Department website for details on how to recycle and what's accepted by the city.


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MADISON (WKOW) -- A group of UW-Madison students are working to expand a Styrofoam recycling program in Madison.

For the past year, the students have been developing a way to reduce packaging waste by collecting and reusing bio-shipping containers on campus.

The team presented the Styrocycle project at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. in late April and was awarded a $90,000 grant to expand the program.

Tonight on 27 News at 5 & 6, Jennifer Kliese gives us a look at the project and the future of Styrofoam recycling in Madison.

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