On Thursday, January 10, 2013, 41 students from Athens Middle School accompanied their robotics teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Kennedy, on a search for knowledge about plastics recycling.
That search for information took them to the Athens-Limestone Recycling Center where they toured the plant. The students and Mrs. Kennedy all left with a new appreciation for the work that takes place at the recycling center, especially the sorting that must be done when the public is not careful about what is placed in the recycling containers.
Every student on the tour took their turn at the plastics sorting table, deciding what type of plastic they were handling and into what baler it was to be tossed. Every piece of plastic is handled, as well as some pretty nasty garbage that ends up in with the recycled materials. Seth Hughes, an 8th grader wrote, “I didn’t realize, first of all, plastic bags are recycling’s worst enemy. Second, I never realized how much work went into sorting the plastic.” Lexi Donahue, a 7th grader said she was surprised at how messy the plastic sorting process can be and was impressed at how quickly the employees could do the job. The seemingly endless mountain of plastic that was waiting to be sorted loomed high over their heads and appeared to be an impossible task.
The students then continued on to see the next step of the plastics recycling process that takes place at Custom Polymers PET, located here in Athens. PET plastic pellets are made from the bales of plastic Custom Polymers purchases from recycling centers like ours in Athens. These pellets are sold to companies that use them to create new products such as new bottles, carpeting, clothing, food-grade containers, and much more. “I had no idea there was so much need for the plastic pellets, or what could be made from them,” said Lexi Donahue. “This has made me think about recycling in a very different way.”
The students were shocked to learn that the plastic baled at the recycling center each month only keeps Custom Polymers’ lines operating for about 2 hours! “We love the plastic that comes from the Athens-Limestone Recycling Center because it’s hand sorted and very clean,” said Byron Geiger, President of Custom Polymers. Because Custom Polymers simply does not get enough PET plastic bottles and containers from Limestone County or the State of Alabama, they must purchase baled PET plastic from across the United States and some foreign countries just to keep their plant operating.
Mrs. Kennedy and her robotics students have progressed to the semi-finals in an attempt to win a $110,000 grant from the Samsung Corporation. To complete the competition, these students will use their new found knowledge to build a virtual neighborhood with a robot that will pick up and sort plastic as a way to bring math and science together to solve an environmental problem.
We at KALB will be rooting for them big time!
If you would like information on how to schedule a tour, please contact KALB.
By: Lynne Hart