COLUMBIA — The 65 employees of Alternative Community Training are working to keep more trash out of landfills by recycling types of plastic the city’s recycling program doesn’t handle.
All plastics are marked with a number inside a recycling symbol as one of seven different categories, with each category representing a different type of plastic. This number is important because recycling plants use it to separate each plastic into its respective category before it can be recycled.
Plastics No. 1 through 7 can be recycled — even the smallest yogurt container does not have to be tossed into the trash.
The city’s recycling program, however, is limited to No. 1 plastics, such as soda and water bottles, and No. 2 plastics, which include detergent bottles*.
All other plastics, even those put in blue recycling bags, end up in the landfill.
Alternative Community Training, which provides work for people with disabilities, concentrates its plastic recycling on VHS cassettes, CDs and DVDs and the cases they come in. They also take floppy disks and audio cassette tapes.
ACT takes these "media plastics" because they have a viable market for recycling and because they are clean.
"Our goal here is to exclusively work with media product," said John Savage, director of employment services for the training program.
The program is also the only place in Columbia where people can take No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 plastics.
Columbia’s Solid Waste Division is in the early stages of talking with ACT about collecting No. 5, 6 and 7 plastics "to see if we can work together to increase the number of 5, 6, and 7s recycled," said Layli Terrill, waste minimization supervisor of the Public Works Department's recycling program.
Nothing has been finalized because of the sheer volume of material it would create for the ACT employees to sort through.
"With the manpower and machinery we have, we aren't equipped to handle the food containers that the project would generate," Savage said.
The city's recycling program only accepts No. 1 and No. 2 plastics because they make up the bulk of the recycling market, Terrill said.
The city's recycling program can sort containers more easily since No. 1 and No. 2 are distinguishable from one another. ACT employees must separate plastics into the various components they are made from, then find the recycling number for each type of component.
“You don’t have to look at the numbers for 1 and 2 because they’re universal. A type 5, 6 or 7 can have the same texture, weight and flexibility and be made from a different material. It becomes very time consuming and costly to sort them out,” Savage said.
Although ACT creates a market in which more plastics can be recycled, Columbia has no market to recycle No. 3 and No. 4 plastics, Terrill said. They can be recycled, but the city’s recycling department cannot collect them for the same reasons they cannot collect No. 5, 6 and 7 plastics.
To donate media plastics to ACT, mail or drop off the product at 2200 Burlington St., Columbia, MO 65202 and fill out the Online Donor Form to include with your donation.