In the small town of Vergas, behind Hanson’s Plumbing and Heating is a pile of discarded cardboard boxes awaiting the trash hauler. Cardboard, a common byproduct of doing business can be recycled. However, in many rural areas like Vergas, this commodity is seldom recycled due to lack of access to commercial recycling. Otter Tail County found a way to change that.
A simple idea takes shape
Otter Tail County wanted to provide cardboard recycling service to rural businesses but lacked the funds to buy the equipment. A grant from the MPCA helped county staff purchase 18 recycling dumpsters and a trailer.
County staff also visited the businesses in towns and cities not serviced by commercial recycling to see if they wanted to participate. Due to the limited number of dumpsters, they knew the businesses would have to share the dumpster. “Visiting all the businesses was a lot of leg work at first,” said Shannon Terry, Public Information & Education Officer, “but the support from them was overwhelming.”
The revenue from the recyclable cardboard helps offset the cost of collecting the material. “Our driver helps spread the word to local businesses too,” said Terry. “Even the garbage hauler will separate the cardboard from the trash and contact me for pickup.”
Thinking outside the box
To address the recycling challenges at business-related events, such as a food drive or for large one-time projects like new construction, Otter Tail County has one dedicated dumpster that they will deliver to a site. “In a town of 850, we provided a 12-yard cardboard recycling bin during construction of a new apartment building,” said Terry. “And they filled it three times.”
Recyclable materials like cardboard are resources with environmental and economic value. Building a strong and successful recycling program takes collaboration between businesses, government, trash haulers, and the community.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency provides financial assistance to help with sustainable practices. Learn more: MPCA’s Environmental Assistance Grants and Loans program.