It's back to market for recyclables

Ever wonder what becomes of all the stuff in your recycling bin after it leaves in the recycling truck? It gets turned into all kinds of new products.

Cardboard, which makes up most of the recycling volume in Olmsted County, is recycled into new cardboard, says Sharon Schriever, who oversees recycling for the county.

Glass is also converted into new glass items.

Plastic pop or water bottles — the ones with a number 1 on the bottom — can be made into new plastic bottles or chipped up and turned into carpet or polar fleece fabric.

Plastic milk jugs or detergent bottles are made into landscape material, decking or outdoor furniture.


Magazines, office paper and junk mail can reappear on your breakfast table as a cereal box. They can also be made into tissue paper. Newspaper lives on as egg cartons, insulation or paperboard boxes.

Aluminum cans are recycled into new cans. "About half of new aluminum cans are made from recycled aluminum because it is so much cheaper and energy efficient to do it a that way," Schriever says.

In addition to saving costs, energy and resources, recycled products are kept out of landfills or waste energy facilities, and they don’t take space that could be used for products that can’t be recycled, she says.

After recycling is collected, it is sorted, made into bales and sold to companies that turn it into new products. "You need a huge amount of each type of material to be able to market it," Schriever says.

It’s not too hard for cities like Rochester to generate mass quantities of recyclables, but smaller communities are not able to generate enough on their own. Eight counties in the region join forces, and recyclables, through the Southeast Minnesota Recyclers Exchange. Together they generate the volume of materials needed to sell their recyclables.

How can you tell if a new product uses recycled materials? Check the label.

If a product says it contains pre-consumer content, the manufacturer used waste material that never made it into the marketplace, such as paper scraps at a paper mill. Products labeled as containing post-consumer content were made using materials from the recycling bin.

According to the Recycling Association of Minnesota, this is the preferred type of recycled content. If there is no label, contact the manufacturer or visit the Recycling Association’s website at for a recycled products guide.

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