Over 9 million pounds of material collected in OT County
Recycling can be confusing sometimes. Otter Tail County Solid Waste employees often get the same or similar questions from many residents.
Otter Tail County collects over 9 million pounds of recycling each year and sends it to companies in Minnesota or the Midwest to be turned into new products.
So, what determines what is recyclable or not? Three of the main criteria that determine whether something can be recycled are:
Size. Items that are too large or too small do not work in the sorting process; they are either too small and literally fall through the cracks or are too large or rigid to be squished into a bale with the rest of the recyclables. For example, a business card, k-cup or a small plastic eye drop bottle would be too small, and a plastic cooler or lawn chair would be too big.
Type of material. Not everything can be recycled, no matter how much people may want it to be. Poor quality paper fiber, such as paper egg cartons, don’t have enough structure left to be made into something new. Products that fuse two different materials together, such as juice pouches, are also not easily recycled. Some plastics are very hard to recycle, and no companies will buy them, leading to the next criteria.
End markets. For something to be recyclable, there needs to be an outlet for the material to be sold. If no companies want to recycle juice pouches, or Styrofoam, there is no way to collect them for recycling. Companies we sell recycled materials to determine what can be recycled, not Otter Tail County. There are generally reliable end markets for multiple grades of paper, corrugated cardboard, certain plastics (more on that below), steel and aluminum cans, and glass.
So what can you put in your recycling bin, and what happens to it?
Yes- Please recycle all newspapers, office paper, magazines, calendars, junk mail, and paperboard food and beverage boxes. Our paper stays in Minnesota and Wisconsin; some of it gets turned into blow-in insulation for homes.
No- No food-soiled paper such as paper plates or paper towels, no cartons.
Yes- Please recycle all food and beverage cans. Metal can be recycled endlessly, and the aluminum from recycled cans is often recycled back into a new can in as little as 60 days. Give food cans a quick rinse or scrape them out with a spatula. Labels do not need to be removed.
No- No food or liquids, please empty all containers. No scrap metal, it is not food grade and must be removed before baling.
Yes- All glass bottles and jars—free of food or liquid. Rinse out or scrape out with a spatula. Labels are fine, but remove lids if you can. We are currently stockpiling glass from our recycling drop-off sites for reuse in road construction projects to lower transportation costs and provide a local benefit.
No- Ceramics or automotive glass.
Yes- Relatively clean and dry corrugated (wavy middle layer) cardboard and brown paper bag material. Tape or connective stapes are fine, but you can remove if desired. Pizza boxes with small amounts of grease are accepted. Typically, cardboard stays in Minnesota and is pulped to make new cardboard boxes—OT County collects so much it could make 11 million new pizza boxes each year.
No- Heavily soiled cardboard such as pizza boxes with lots of grease or food residue, no packing materials such as Styrofoam or air pillows. No bloody cardboard during hunting season, please.
Yes- Plastic containers numbered #1, #2, and #5. These are the most easily recycled plastics with the highest demand. Empty and rinse out food and liquid; please put caps back on. Plastic in the region is often recycled into plastic decking material.
No- Plastic #3 (PVC), #4 (mostly bags and other film materials), #6 (Styrofoam), and black plastic. These plastics do not have reliable or widespread end-markets or are undesirable for other reasons. For more information, please see the Quick Guide to Plastics Recycling at the link below.
Visit www.ottertailcounty.gov/recycling-waste-disposal/ for a Quick Guide to Plastics Recycling, recycling drop-off locations, the Waste Wizard waste and recycling lookup app, and more.