The Gull Reef Club

4/5/2005

Styrofoam

Filed under: — Jaime @ 11:37 pm

As the weather warms up and our thoughts turn to backyard bbqs, allow me to impart to you a slightly useful but mostly trivial bit of information – all styrofoam plates are the same.

I came by this knowledge during my first summer home from college. I needed a temporary, yet well paying, job to pay for my expenses (read: party supplies) for the following school year. Not being a fortunate daughter, I didn’t have anyone to give me a cushy job sitting around on my ass in the air conditioning.

Instead, I landed a gig at a local factory that made styrofoam plates and meat trays. I worked 7pm to 7am, on an alternating 3 days on, 2 days off, 4 days on, 3 days off schedule. The best part about that schedule is that working nights beat the heat of the day in the non-airconditioned presses. The pay was good enough that it kept me going back for the three months of summer vacation.

I came away learning a few things too…beyond the plate thing, which I’m getting to…I learned that I shouldn’t get snobby and look down on people just because I was getting a higher education, but I also realized I had to finish it or else be subject to a lifetime in someplace like the styrofoam factory. It reinforced my knowledge that good people exist at all income and intelligence levels. It began a lasting fascination with factory lines and production (I just love Made In America, squeeee!). And yes, I learned that all styrofoam plates are the same.

The styrofoam came into the press area of the factory in gigantic rolls of plate-thick sheets. The rolls weighed a ton or so and were dangerous to be around. These rolls sat on one end of the press and were fed into the long machine. The rolls then went through a high heat mold that impressed the plates into the styrofoam. The pressed foam was then fed into the noisy, scary, plate punch where the plates were punched out of the styrofoam, dropped into precisely numbered stacks, and the waste dropped into bins beneath. My job was to stand at the end of the plate punch, catch the stacks of plates as they dropped off the punch conveyor belt, place the stacks into plastic bags, seal the bags, and place the bags in boxes on a crate.

The bags and boxes were designed for various plate sellers, from the expensive, Hefty brand to generic, grocery store brands. Once we filled our quota for a certain company, we changed our bags and boxes to the next company’s and continued filling them with the same styrofoam plates that the last company got. The only difference between expensive styrofoam plates and cheap ones are the bags.

The Gull Reef Club