A Sea of Tapes

Agency looks for ways to dispose of ‘techno trash’
Tuesday, March 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:00 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

About 100,000 blank videotapes sit stacked and untouched at Alternative Community Training. Some are marked “rejects” while others are still usable. Either way, almost no one is interested in buying them.

“We’re stuck in a sea of tapes,” said Jim Williams, director of operations and community employment at ACT.

The not-for-profit agency has been collecting used videotapes since 1991 and employs about 65 disabled people to sort, take off the labels and erase them. They sell the blank tapes to news stations and other companies for 12 to 50 cents each.

“As the life of the video tape is slowly dying, the videotape industry said it would no longer produce movies on VHS,” Williams said.

He predicts videotapes will be extinct in eight to 10 years.

What will happen to the 100,000 tapes piled in the agency’s Columbia office and the 300,000 more in its warehouse? ACT has two options: find customers to buy the tapes or find a recycling company that can grind them up.

At this point, something must be done with this “techno trash.”

In an effort to save the dying technology, ACT hired Missouri Enterprise Business Assistance Center with an $8,620 grant from the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority. The grant includes $4,000 of in-kind services that represents ACT employees’ time and $4,620 that will go to the business assistance center.

“We want to add value to the old tapes and help them find a better home,” said Jimmy Story of the Business Center. Story is a senior project manager on the ACT project.

This “better home” hasn’t been identified, but Story hopes to have a solution within three to four months. He said he plans to look at schools and insurance programs that may be able to use the blank tapes. If that doesn’t work, he’ll look for an economical way to separate the plastic in video tapes and potentially recycle the material so it can be used for other items such as plastic lumber or plastic fence posts.

Whatever the outcome, ACT hopes to continue to provide job opportunities for disabled workers. D.J. Dailey, who de-labels tapes almost 35 hours per week, said he enjoys his job and wants to continue with ACT. He is paid a “piece rate,” which means that his wages are based on the number of videotapes he de-labels every day. If he performs at a normal production rate, Dailey receives $7.24 per hour.

“Getting so many tapes done a day makes me feel good,” Dailey said.

Although ACT also resells other “techno trash” besides videotapes, there’s growing concern about the piles of tapes.

“We’ve got to do something,” Williams said.

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