COLUMBIA — Instead of souvenirs, Sandy Gummersheimer comes home from vacation with bags of plastic bottles.
“We are strange people that cannot make ourselves throw plastic away,” said Gummersheimer, a continuing education coordinator at MU. “When I’m on vacation and there isn’t a place to recycle stuff, I just bring it home. I just can’t make myself throw it away.”
Gummersheimer feels so strongly about recycling that she and about 15 others from the Old Southwest neighborhood in central Columbia are collecting their plastic bottles and containers as a group. When they collect a certain number of bags, one person from the group drives 15 or so miles to recycle them at Ryan Enterprise near Millersburg.
The idea started forming when Gummersheimer realized there wasn’t a place in Columbia to recycle everything she wanted to.
**The city's residential recycling program accepts plastics Nos. 1 and 2, such as soda bottles and milk jugs.
“For plastic No. 3 through No. 7, we don’t have any options right now, and there are various reasons why,” said Layli Terrill, Columbia’s waste minimization supervisor. "Columbia is not a big metropolitan area, and it would be costly to collect the other types of plastic.”
Plastics Nos. 3 through 7 include food wraps, grocery bags, yogurt cups and baby toys.
The residential recycling options weren’t satisfying to Gummersheimer, so she turned to alternatives. She found that some people in the neighborhood had the same idea.
“Several people on the (neighborhood e-mail listserv) started talking about whether there are alternatives to where we can drop off these other plastics,” Gummersheimer said.
Through responses on the listserv, 10 to 15 people in the neighborhood expressed interest, she said.
Ted Curtis, another Old Southwest resident, responded to the e-mail and said he could contribute and possibly take a load.
“I’m a recycling nut myself,” Curtis said. “I pick up aluminum cans if I see them lying around. There ought to be a way to recycle more, and it’s such a waste to throw the plastic in the landfill.”
The group called Ryan Enterprise.
"I had a friend that worked at Ryan Enterprise, so I found out about this company about two or three years ago,” Gummersheimer said. “So I started personally saving up the items.”
“They said they take any numbers of plastic,” she said. “There are a few restrictions, such as Styrofoam, but this is a wonderful option for avid recyclers.”
Started in 2005, the family-run Ryan Enterprise recycles unwanted plastic material from Missouri's waste streams, according to its website.
Employees there try to take as many types of plastic as they can, said Mikki Ryan, daughter-in-law of owner Gary Ryan. Once the plastic is collected, it is ground into shavings and run through an extruder to be melted down. The end products are plastic posts and landscaping timbers, which are sold to farmers, Mikki Ryan said.
Residential recycling has not grown in recent years, according to a previous Missourian article. *About 30 percent of Columbia residents recycle, Terrill said, up 2 percentage points since January.
The group of Old Southwest recyclers is striving to increase that percentage.
“We are hoping to get more people involved. It would also be nice if the city recycling and Ryan Enterprise could collaborate,” Gummersheimer said.
The most recent trip for the group was in late September.
“I delivered about 13 bags,” Gummersheimer said. “The amount may increase now that more people know this is an option.”
However, the increase adds pressure to the recycling business.
“Business is not extremely profitable, but it’s a good thing that people are recycling,” Ryan said. “However, I think it’s safe to say that we’d have to start implementing a charge starting Jan. 1, 2011.”
Gummersheimer said she does not mind the charge. The neighbors pitched in some money to pay Ryan Enterprise, she said.
“We are just really glad to have alternatives to recycle more plastic,” Gummersheimer said.