On February 5th, 2016 seven homeschooled students ages 9 to 14 and an adult coach toured T.O. Plastics' plant in Otsego, Minnesota, to learn how thermoformed plastic packaging is produced. Calling themselves the FLL Minions, this team of students is participating in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) competition, a worldwide program that challenges students to research a real-world problem and to develop a solution by applying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts.
This year's FLL challenge, called Trash Trek, is to identify a problem with the way trash is handled and learn about it. The FLL Minions decided to research how to reduce waste created by cardboard pizza boxes. They learned that pizza boxes create a lot of trash; 3 billion boxes are thrown away every year. And, in most places, they are not recyclable because they are contaminated by food and grease. Team members reached out to local pizza shop owners, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the County Health Department, a pizza expert and pizza tour guide in New York City, and more than 1,700 pizza customers via a worldwide online survey. "They wanted to find a way to continue to enjoy one of their favorite foods but decrease the carbon footprint related to using cardboard boxes," said one of the team's adult coaches. The FLL Minions' solution: reusable, recyclable pizza boxes.