Contributed photo – State of Minnesota art made out of recycled plastic in the Precious Plastic Lab.

Minnesota has robust recycling programming and infrastructure. Residents around the state collect about 2.5 million tons of recycling each year, worth an estimated $690 million, and 37,000 jobs in MN are directly or indirectly related to the recycling industry. Over 200 companies in the state use recycled material in their products – including some of the recycling collected right here in Otter Tail County.

In 2021, Otter Tail County collected and shipped out approximately 4807 tons – or 9.6 million lbs – of material to be recycled. It can be hard to visualize or understand what that kind of volume means or the impact it has. Pair that with common misconceptions about recycling being landfilled or burned and it’s not surprising that some people are skeptical about the benefits of recycling. Recycling from Otter Tail County is sold to end-markets in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest and does get recycled, contrary to what is sometimes seen in the media. Here is a little information about each material we collect in our recycling program:

Paper: We accept multiple kids of paper from newspapers and magazines to office paper, junk mail and food boxes. Paper can be recycled multiple times and is put into a giant blender called a hydropulper to break it down before forming the material into new sheets. According to the EPA, the paper we recycle here each year saves approximately 17,000 mature trees and over 3 million gallons of water!

Plastic: The plastic we collect stays in the Midwest region and is made into recycled plastic lumber. As long as you are putting acceptable plastic items into your recycling bin it does get recycled. We accept plastic containers, preferably with the caps on. Plastic containers with the numbers 1, 2, and 5 are the most valuable and recyclable types of plastic. Unfortunately there are lots of kinds of plastic packaging that aren’t accepted in recycling programs, usually due to different kinds of materials fused together (like juice pouches) or thin flexible film packaging that gets dirty easily (such as shopping bags). Make sure to drop off plastic bags at grocery store locations or bins put out by the Lions Clubs for recycling.

Metal: Metal can be recycled endlessly – if it gets put in the recycling bin! Metal can be recycled into new cans in as little as 60 days, and is a high value material. Making a new can out of recycled aluminum saves 90% of the energy it would require to make the same can out of bauxite ore that is mined to produce aluminum. Labels are fine, just make sure the cans are empty!

Glass: Glass can also be recycled endlessly, although at this time we are saving up our local glass to be used in road projects. This reduces the cost and environmental impacts of transporting the material long distances, while still reducing landfilling. Just like with cans, labels are fine.

Cardboard: Cardboard is made of long, strong fibers and can be recycled many times over. The cardboard we collect stays in Minnesota and is made into new cardboard boxes. Just like paper, recycling cardboard protects forests, saves water, and saves landfill space for things that can’t be recycled.

Recycling – and then making sure to buy products with recycled content – helps to use resources to their fullest potential, saves energy and water, reduces pollution, and reduces the need for landfilling. Thank you for doing your part! To view the recycling guide for accepted items or to see a map of recycling drop off sites visit