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Plastic recycling expanding

Jay Baker, director of Kandiyohi County's recycling program, shows samples of the new type of plastic containers that will be accepted at the recycling center, starting April 1. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

The whipped topping containers, ice cream pails and yogurt, cottage cheese and margarine tubs that have been crowding kitchen cupboards -- and the Kandiyohi County landfill -- will now be accepted at the county's recycling center.

Starting April 1 the county will expand its plastics recycling program to include nearly all plastics that contained food.

Even the clear plastic boxes that doughnuts and other bakery goods come in that refuse to be scrunched down and literally pop out of garbage cans, can now be recycled.

The primary exception is foam-type plastic that will not be accepted.

The expansion of the plastics program is expected to increase the volume at the recycling center and decrease waste going to the landfill, said County Board Chairman Richard Falk, an advocate for the change.

"We're going to get many, many tons a year of recyclables that will be reused instead of going to the landfill," said Falk. "It's just a better way in our county that we can be more environmentally conscientious.'

It is also expected to create some new recyclers.

Currently only plastic containers that have the number one or number two recycling symbol on the bottom are accepted here.

Number ones include items like water and pop bottles, and number two's are milk jugs and detergent bottles. Everything else, including the wide-mouth tubs, were relegated to the landfill.

Frustration over which plastic containers are accepted for recycling in Kandiyohi County, and which ones aren't, has likely kept some people from recycling plastics -- or maybe kept them from recycling anything at all.

The expanded program will make recycling plastics much simpler, said Falk.

Starting Thursday plastics that have the numbers 1-5 will be baled at the recycling center and sold to businesses that use recycled plastics to make new products, like carpet, "lumber" and drain tiles.

The change means virtually all plastics will now be accepted at curb-side pick-up, the collection sites around the county and the processing facility in Willmar.

Jay Baker, manager for the county's recycling and household hazardous waste programs, said being able to accept these common-use plastic containers will ease the confusion for residents and increase materials brought in to the center.

The question of whether or not lids from those containers will be accepted is a little open-ended, said Baker. If there is a recycling symbol with a number 1-5 in it, then the lid can be tossed in the recycling bin. If it doesn't carry the recycling symbol, it can't be mixed with the recycled plastic. Look for the recycling symbol on either the top or the bottom of the lid. 

The change is being made because the county has now located market options for the different types of plastic. Before, said Baker, the county had no where to sell the materials.

The new revenue won't be great, said Falk, but that's a minor issue considering the benefits.

With the county currently recycling about 37 percent of eligible materials, Falk said expanding the plastics program should help shoot that figure upward and expand the life of the landfill.

He also said more plastics will mean additional work for West Central Industries, which hires individuals with disabilities to sort recycled materials at the center.

With Earth Day coming up on April 22, Baker said now is a good time to start the expanded recycling program.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750