Cafe Laura

Cafe Laura Plans to go Styrofoam-Free for Sustainability

Staff at Cafe Laura, who have been leaders for sustainable practices at Penn State, are now working to replace Styrofoam products with recyclable paper and plastic.

Over the last five years, increased recycling and sustainability initiatives at Cafe Laura have incorporated natural quartz into the main dining room tabletop design, along with chairs in the foyer made out of 118 recycled plastic soda bottles.

The on-campus restaurant run primarily by students has received accolades from the Pennsylvania Waste Watcher Association, winning awards in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Cafe Laura also won an Eco Flow award for "Best Green Product" in 2014 for using bio-amp in their waste treatment agendas.

Most recently, Cafe Laura staff has replaced the Styrofoam soup cups with compostable paper cups.

"Penn State is working with industry partners like Pepsi and Starbucks to provide the sustainable products at a reasonable cost. We only have one earth," says Scott King, general manager of Cafe Laura.

King's goal is to replace all Styrofoam products, and he views this sustainable model at Cafe Laura as an educational opportunity for students.

Cafe Laura's partnerships with Penn State's School of Hospitality Management and Clean River Recycling and Waste Stream Systems have assisted in providing resources and recycling programs to support recycling and composting.

The easier the system is for recycling and composting, the more effective. Capture Cans at Cafe Laura that collect waste are carefully designed to be light and easy to clean. King designed the Capture Cans with distinct signage and images for clarity on proper disposal.

"We use compostable collection bags to collect organic waste, which makes the collection process much easier," King says.

The waste stream collection is right around 80 percent success rate. Cafe Laura collects and recycles organic waste, glass, metals, plastic, mixed paper and cardboard, in addition to waste that is not recyclable.

The restaurant staff is working with industry partners and hospitality corporations to use the waste stream collection model in operations beyond Cafe Laura. The staff has also been able to cut the number of Capture Cans in the kitchen from 16 to eight, using dividers in the Capture Cans to easily separate waste for optimal accuracy and efficiency.

After collaborating with Eco Container, a sustainable container-shipping company, to replace the Styrofoam soup cups, King hopes to work with them again to replace the one- and three-part Styrofoam units at Cafe Laura's home-style and deli stations.