Art in process: Community members engage in recycling project

The Lakes Area Precious Plastic Lab creates art pieces out of plastic.

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Silas, left, Juniper and Sadira Wieser work together to pull down on the injection mold lever at the New York Mills Cultural Center on Aug. 3, 2021. They each picked a color for their tile. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

The process of transforming plastic to resource items is “very artisanal,” as Cedar Walters says. This is just one of the ways she enjoys explaining the Lakes Area Precious Plastic Lab projects as the Otter Tail County waste and recycling public information and education officer.

Community members and artists can easily participate in the process through the Precious Plastic Lab, which opened in Fergus Falls in fall 2020. The lab is attached with the recycling center and utilizes waste plastic materials that might otherwise be discarded. Artists use four machines including an injection molding machine, mini shredder, compression oven and extrusion machine. The goal is to help people reimagine waste and highlight the importance of recycling, as Walters said.

“We’re always trying to show people how recycling happens and … so I immediately saw this is a way for people to experience recycling first hand and do it themselves,” Walters said. Precious Plastic is a global community that aims to have people see plastic as precious, according to an Otter Tail County news release. “I love collaborating with artists, partially because creativity helps us see waste in a different way. Instead of seeing waste we see something that has potential to be something else and so it’s a great way to blend that creativity with recycling and highlight the issue.”

In 2018, the United States municipal solid waste included 35.6 million tons of plastic with 3 million of those tons being recycled.


With the smell of hot glue in the air and a small group of curious people, Walters explained the process of the injection molding machine at a pop-up event in New York Mills. People used recycled storage bins that would have become trash otherwise due to their large size that does not work with the recycling program. The bins go through a shredder or industrial grinder after being washed. And the fun colors are then ready to become art pieces.

“This would be waste but really it’s beautiful. So it just really helps change people’s perspective when they see it like that, it’s not something cracked and dirty, it could become art or it could become a bowl or an alphabet set for a preschool,” Walters said. “It could be all kinds of things.”

The plastic material is melted through the injection machine and molded into an inserted shape, this time being tiles that will become part of a mosaic at the lab in Fergus Falls. The process also highlights how recycling works on a smaller scale, as Walters said. Attendee John Salmen said recycling is what we have to be doing.

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Cedar Walters, Otter Tail County waste and recycling public information and education officer, attaches a mold to the plastic injection molding machine on Aug. 3, 2021, which melts recycled plastics into a tile shape. The Lakes Area Precious Plastic Lab in Fergus Falls also has molds for letters, the state of Minnesota and jewelry pieces. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

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Attendees at the pop-up Precious Plastic Lab event could pick from shredded plastic materials to add to the injection mold machine on Aug. 3, 2021 at the New York Mills Cultural Center. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal


The project includes lots of trial and error, like figuring out how much plastic material is needed to fill a tile mold—which is about 65 grams. While exploring the project and puppet show event with her children, Rosalie Wieser hopes they will be inspired to create arts and crafts.

“Working with plastic, just like any kind of art form or craft form, there’s a big learning curve so like you’re not going to throw a gorgeous pot your first time, it’s going to take awhile,” Walters said. “You have to learn about the material, you have to figure how it’s going to behave, what happens when you do this to it or that to it, what temperature’s safe or what temperature’s effective to use it.”

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John Salmen, center, and Otter Tail County commissioner Dan Bucholz learn about the process of making a tile from recycled plastic materials on Aug. 3, 2021. The shredded materials where all plastic bins that would have become trash otherwise. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

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Sadira Wieser plays with the recycled plastic materials that will become tiles on Aug. 3, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

You can check out more of the projects at an open house on Tuesday, Aug. 10 from 4-7 p.m. at the Otter Tail County Recycling Center, 1115 N Tower Road, Fergus Falls. A project overview and artist introductions are at 5:30 p.m. along with machine demonstrations, creating an injection molded tile and a collaborative plastic art installation throughout the evening.

Where to recycle

“Plastic is extremely malleable, endlessly useful, and very very durable,” according to the Otter Tail County website. “But – the very properties that make it useful make it a problem. Plastic just doesn’t go away.”


You can check if materials are recyclable through an online Waste Wizard tool on the Otter Tail County website. There is also a recycling guide for accepted items such as cans, glass, plastic containers #1-7, paper and cardboard.

Area communities also have recycling sites:

  • Bluffton: Tom’s Body Shop, 102 Main Street.

  • Deer Creek: Community Center, 106 E Main Avenue.

  • Henning: South of 506 Balmoral Avenue.

  • New York Mills: County office, 118 N Main Avenue.

  • Ottertail: Next to the water tower on S Maple Avenue.

  • Perham: Resource Recovery Facility, 201 NE 6th Avenue.

  • Sebeka: Fire hall on E Minnesota Ave.

  • Verndale: Back of post office, 122 Farwell Street.
  • Wadena: 160 SE Aldrich Avenue and the transfer station at 10542 170th Street.

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Walters shows off the result of an injection mold tile on Aug. 3, 2021. The tiles are made from recycled plastic materials. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in feature reporting as well as enhancing online articles. Readers can reach Rebecca at 507-285-7681 or
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