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  • Kate Egelhof & Rachel Munson

UPDATED: A Helpful Guide to Recycling

Since this article was published, we’ve had some really exciting updates on the recycling front. (Yes, recycling can be exciting and fun both as a practice and as a concept!) The creation of a new Beltrami County Recycling Task Force (including Harmony Co-op’s own Lisa Weiskopf, as well as BSU, Waste Management, Beltrami County Solid Waste, City of Bemidji, Security State Bank, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Sanford Center) promises new opportunities and some exciting news for our community. We received some clarification about what is accepted for recycling; while the county website states that only Plastics 1 and 2 with necks are allowed, we found out that, in fact, all Plastics 1 and 2 are accepted. This significantly expands the recyclable items list, including items like our clamshell deli containers. Items do not have to be washed or have their labels removed to be accepted; if you’re not sure if something is recyclable or not, try to recycle it anyway rather than throwing it in the garbage. (The recycling center can sort out unacceptable items from the recycling, but it cannot remove all recyclable items from the garbage.)

For those of us who would love to compost but don’t have a yard (or are worried about bears or raccoons foraging through their compost), we’re in luck! This fall, Beltrami County plans to begin its first organic recyclables program and will be accepting compost and compostable cups. And even more exciting than that—our county is beginning to consider the possibility of (gasp!) curbside recycling pickup. No further details are available than that, but our fingers are definitely crossed!


Most of us make resolutions for the New Year. Quitting smoking, eating clean, getting a gym membership, taking your vitamins—with varying degrees of optimism and realism, we take each January as a fresh start and vow again to better ourselves. Of course, this is all easier said than done, and some resolutions are harder than others (the stereotype of gym visits peaking in January and dropping off again immediately is certainly rooted in truth). One often-overlooked resolution that’s almost painless to keep up with, however, is recycling. You may think “Well, I sort my cans and bottles out of the trash, isn’t that good enough?” or “What impact does recycling even have, anyway?” Perhaps you don’t realize that Bemidji has recycling capabilities despite not having curbside pickup (like many larger cities), or you see it as just another pointless hippie “trend”. The good news: it’s not pointless at all, it helps quite a bit (both financially as well as environmentally), you can recycle just about anything, and humans have been recycling for, well, pretty much ever. (Your grandparents just called it “being thrifty”.)

A Brief History of Recycling

The practice of “recycling” objects predates the modern American environmental movement by decades, if not centuries; after all, at its most base level, “recycling” is just reusing and re-purposing objects, which humans have been doing since we had the concept of “objects” in the first place. Pioneer women sewing dresses from old feed sacks, like in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books—that’s just as much recycling as the modern practice of turning old plastic bottles into fleece jackets. The Great Depression forced families nationwide to conserve and reuse everything they possibly could (if you ever wondered why your grandma, like mine, insisted on saving used twist ties and washing plastic bags, this is probably why). During World War II, households were encouraged to save every scrap of nylon, rubber, and metal and turn it in for use in the war effort; slogans like “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”, “Make do and mend” and “Do with less so they’ll have enough!” were common on government-sponsored motivational posters. The postwar economic boom and the rise in consumer goods and consumption was what helped make the environmental movement of the 1960s and 70s necessary; while a ration-weary populace embraced the manufacturing advances advertising ease and efficiency, those same advances (such as the widespread use of plastic) created new problems—particularly pollution and garbage.

Why Recycle?

There are a variety of reasons to recycle, with the environmental impact being first and foremost in most people’s minds—after all, with the hazards of climate change becoming ever more apparent, the dire warnings about the amount of plastic in the ocean and its effects on sea life, and the terrifying amount of species going extinct each day, it’s almost impossible to ignore the devastating impact humans are having on our environment and our planet. Recycling reduces the amount of garbage in landfills and therefore the risk of toxins leaching into the soil, air, and groundwater; reusing products rather than making new ones also reduces the potential for pollution generated during manufacturing, as well as conserving resources and energy. Aside from the observable environmental impact, recycling also saves money (both for individuals and municipalities) and creates jobs.

What can I recycle?

More and more items are able to be recycled each year—far beyond aluminum cans and glass bottles. Paper is sorted and blended into pulp, where the staples, glues, and inks are removed; this pulp is then made into new paper. Recycled paper not only saves water, energy, and pollutants, but countless old-growth trees. Glass jars and bottles are sorted by color (window and light bulb glass is difficult to recycle); the glass is ground down into fine particles, then melted and reshaped; recycled glass is significantly easier to produce than “virgin” glass, both in terms of cost savings and of energy use.

Steel is relatively easy to recycle (stripped and melted cars and construction waste are melted down and refined, then re-poured), so all American steel is legally required to contain at least 25% recycled steel. Recycling aluminum is much the same process—old cans are chopped, heated to remove the paint, melted, and then formed into sheets—and not only does recycling aluminum save 95% of the energy used to make new cans, but more cans are recycled than any other beverage container (many states and municipalities offer five-cent deposits to encourage recycling). Even electronics are recyclable now, though more expensive and labor-intensive due to potential toxic materials (such as lead and mercury). Are you looking to safely recycle old or damaged electronic devices? Contact the Bemidji State University Sustainability Office at (218) 755-2560.

Now for the big question - what about plastics? Great question. There is often confusion surrounding what plastics can and cannot be recycled. According to the Beltrami County Waste Management website, the plastics that can be recycled consist of necked containers labeled (1) or (2) on the bottom. In 2016, the Minnesota Capitol drastically changed it's recycling practices, including more plastics, mixed recyclables, and even composting. National Waste Management practice includes mixed recycling, accepting a great number of plastics, glasses, and tins. In anticipation of these practices reaching Northern Minnesota, Harmony Co-op is choosing to recycle all glass, tin, and plastic.

Where can I recycle?

While many municipalities provide curbside recycling services much as they do garbage pickup, Bemidji, unfortunately, does not. Thankfully, we do have several recycling bins around town where citizens can bring their recyclables, as well as the waste transfer station in the industrial park.

Quick Guide:

  1. The Waste Transfer Station in the Bemidji Industrial Park,

  2. One set is located behind Herberger’s on Ridgeway Avenue,

  3. Another at the TomStop on Irvine Avenue north of town.

How to Recycle?

  1. Containers must be rinsed and the lids removed; cardboard should be flattened if possible, with all

inserts removed, and free of wax or food residue (no pizza boxes, napkins, or bathroom tissue, for example).

  1. Appliances, bulbs, and household hazardous waste (such as engine oil, old batteries, or antifreeze) can be taken to the transfer stations; there is a fee for commercial use, but residential use is free.

  2. Did you know that you can recycle your plastic and paper grocery bags at Harmony Co-op? Even those from other businesses!

  3. Old medications should be brought to the county Law Enforcement Center on Minnesota Avenue Please, do not flush them as they may leak into the water supply.

  4. For still-usable clothing and household goods, we have multiple options for donation (Goodwill, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, St. Philip’s Clothing Depot, the Seventh-Day Adventist Clothing Depot); not only are donations tax-deductible, but you’ll have the knowledge that your items are going to a good cause and will help your fellow community members. After all—one person’s “used” is another person’s “vintage”!

  5. Bemidji also has several possibilities for consignment - meaning that you get paid (most often in the form of in-store credit) for your donations - Twice But Nice, Secondhand Splendor, and ValuSmart are valuable components of our community that offer quality clothing at a decent price. Be sure to call ahead and ask if they are accepting consignments as they do not always accept items. This can be grounded in the season, or the space they have available.


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