School uses Thermo Compactors

Flip it. Smack it. Stack it.

That’s the phrase helping Balls Creek Elementary School students use a new waste disposal system that melts trash, reduces costs and cuts down on labor.

The Thermo Compactor machine has been at Balls Creek for two weeks, and
school officials are raving about the benefits of the product.

“The students have accepted it very well, and it has lightened our trash because we don’t have the same amount of garbage,” said cafeteria manager Joyce Fowler. “It’s been very easy to operate.”

The thermo-compaction process is fairly simple.

After students get done with their lunch, they take their Styrofoam tray and “flip it, smack it and stack it” on a custom-made stacker in the cafeteria’s trash disposal area. At the end of the day, a cafeteria worker takes each stack of trays to the Thermo Compactor outside the school and places the trays inside.

With one push of a button, the machine then melts the stacks at a heat of 470 degrees, turning a heap of Styrofoam into a recyclable “log.”

“The really exciting part is that we hope to recycle the finished products into flower pots that can be sent back to schools,” said Keith Beaver, North Carolina executive distributor for Thermo Compaction Systems Inc. “We’re also going to be recycling the finished products into low-grade petroleum fuels, and we plan to give some of the profits from that back to the school systems. In a perfect world, it should come full circle.”

Because the process easily disposes of trays, Beaver said Thermo Compaction also assists with cleaning costs and labor.

“We haven’t seen a school that (has at least saved) $6,500 a year using this product yet,” Beaver said. “It eliminates part of the dishwashing process, so it saves some labor in addition to the cost of chemicals.”

Each compactor costs about $9,600. Beaver said that after adding in the savings on dumpster tipping fees, labor and dishwashing chemicals, the compactors pay for themselves in about one year.

The compactor is safe, too, with locks and lights preventing users from burning themselves.

Karen Duncan, nutrition director for Catawba County Schools, said she “most definitely plans” to incorporate the compactors in more area schools.

“The expense up front is high, but over the next few years, it should pay for itself in these other areas,” Duncan said.

In addition to Balls Creek Elementary, Duncan plans to incorporate the compactors at Blackburn, Snow Creek and St. Stephens elementary schools.

After being approached with information about the compactor last year, Duncan said the school system worked with Thermo Compaction to develop what they think is the “perfect piece of equipment.”

“We’re very excited that Catawba County is leading the way in being very environmentally friendly in our cafeterias,” she said.