Matt Elsaesser Commentary: “Recycle Montana”

This November fifteenth was the 15th annual “America Recycles Day,” a day to celebrate the community, environmental and economic benefits of recycling. America Recycles Day celebrations took place across Montana; in Shelby, Miles City, Helena, Lincoln, Missoula, and Dillon.

In Montana, there is much to celebrate this year. Both in our cities and rural communities, Montanans are beginning new efforts and partnerships to meet recycling’s new challenges. A 2004 study of recycling by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality found that recycling generated nearly ninety million dollars in revenue, paid over nine million dollars in wages and benefits, and sustained over 300 full-time jobs. Compared to more urban states, recycling can be more challenging in a rural state like Montana, which is further from traditional markets. However, communities across the state are finding ways to make recycling work.

This month in Lewistown, “Recycle Our Waste Lewistown,” or “R-O-W-L,” the St. James Episcopal Church Outreach Program, and community volunteers began a cooperative effort with Big Spring Market Co-op to bring plastics recycling to Central Montana. Weather permitting, ROWL now holds plastics drives on the third Saturday of the month for clear, type one bottles and type 2 translucent jugs. ROWL found partners and sponsors to acquire a generator, baler, trailer, and location to make the program possible.

Similar stories come from across the state. In Ravalli County, a recycling center has been reestablished through renewed volunteer participation. The community of Conrad now recycles cans through custom bins, including a metal cage, reusing grain sacks, and half of an old van converted into a trailer. Residents volunteer to take recycling to Great Falls when they head to town, which helps the program. This presents a “win-win,” as these residents are reimbursed for their fuel costs on those trips and the recycled materials escape the landfill. Eureka and other communities in Lincoln County have a new recycling centers and drop-off facilities.

A common theme in these success stories has been a community desire to recycle and to find creative ways to utilize community resources. We can all do our part to help these innovative efforts, not just by participating in their programs, but by doing our best to follow their guidelines. Recycling is a method of diverting material from the waste stream, and utilizing it in the economy with environmental benefit. The higher the quality control, the higher value the material recovered in the end, both environmentally and economically.

Some common rules of thumb are to always empty recyclable containers of their contents, always remove plastics lids, and give a quick rinse to items containing perishable items like milk.

Remember that your recycled materials are used to make new products. Contaminants increase the cost of separating recyclables at a processing facility and even render the product less valuable as a new resource. The environmental benefit realized when your recycling becomes a new product is possible because you preserve the value in your materials by properly sorting them.

There seem to be more and more recycling operations every year in Montana for traditional recycling materials such as cardboard, cans, and plastic. However, opportunities increase every year to recycle more specialized items such TV’s, cell phones, computers and their accessories, and rechargeable batteries. These items have high value due to the precious metals found in each, but take more handling to specifically recycle.

You can learn more about these success stories and recycling at or by calling us at 406.461.9106. Recycle Montana, with community partners in the recycling industry, local government, and advocates across the state, is proud to take part in celebrating America Recycles Day’s 15th year in Montana and looks forward to continuing to advance accessible, effective recycling across our great state!

Matthew Elsaesser has worked in recycling for over a decade. He started his recycling work at Carroll College and since then as led an effort to expand Student Advocates for the Environment into a community effort in Helena. His now represents Recycle Montana’s statewide education and policy initiatives to increase recycling opportunities for all Montanans.

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