Curbside recycling to expand to four townships- first County in the state to offer “uber-like” service


Aitkin County residents produced 2,200 tons of recyclables in 2022 and that amount is about to increase.

The county received a $91,325 grant in 2022 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to subsidize the cost of curbside collection of recyclables outside of the city of Aitkin. Aitkin County has a match and/or in-kind requirement of 25% of the grant total.

Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Recyclops, brought his program proposal for discussion at the Nov. 14 meeting of the Aitkin County Board. Since 2014, his company has grown to provide recycling services to 19 states and these services are currently planned for the townships of Aitkin, Spencer, Farm Island and Nordland.

The first 625 customers who sign up for curbside recycling in those townships will get weekly service for $10 per month for 10 months. This startup program begins March 1 and goes through December, according to Environmental Services Director Andrew Carlstrom.

“We expect six tons of recyclables per month,” Carlstrom said. He added that the county would not be involved after 2025, when customers will deal directly with Recyclops for these services.

Smith said this is an “Uber-like” service, where recyclables are picked up by local drivers in private vehicles and taken to the Aitkin County Recycling Center.

“So it increases local job creation,” said Smith, “decreases truck pollution and lowers road damage.”


Smith grew up in Utah in a family of eight children. An Eagle Scout himself, he said the family was environmentally conscious and recycling was a normal part of life. When he was older and moved other places, he was shocked some areas did not provide recycling. He started his company in 2014, two years before he graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in business strategy.

He said in 2018-2019, Recyclops, a certified B Corporation, began going into more rural areas and added some specialty collections in several large metro areas across the country. There are 15 working in the company and hundreds of drivers. The company also has 29 franchises and is looking to establish more.

Smith said most of his customers are women and that it’s a misconception that the older generation doesn’t care about recycling. “It’s in their nature not to waste,” he noted. “Minnesota cares about recycling.”


The state of Minnesota began promoting and encouraging recycling in the early 1990s. Aitkin County received grant money to build the current recycling facility which was completed in 1991. Garrison Disposal contracted with the county for more than 30 years, collecting recyclables from bins placed throughout the county, operated the recycling center, as well as processing, separating and finally bailing recyclables to send to further markets “The process was labor intensive,” said Carlstrom, “and Garrison Disposal was continually challenged with ‘contamination’ from the public throwing regular household garbage in the with recyclables.”

Nowadays, larger waste haulers who process recyclables “co-mingle” or process “single stream” directly from the consumer. These are not separated until they enter a large and computerized Material Recycling Facility, usually located in large metro areas. The recyclables go to end markets from there and for reprocessing.

Currently, curbside recycling pickup is offered to residents who have garbage service by Garrison Disposal in the city of Aitkin and around Cedar Lake only. Waste Management offers curbside recycling pickup to residents who have garbage service in the city of Hill City.

“Contamination is always a challenge,” noted Carlstrom. Environmental Services and Waste Management (the company currently contracted to haul from the Aitkin facility) staff regularly pull from the Aitkin Recycling Center bins carpet, clothing, shoes, drywall, wood, wicker chairs, broken plastic chairs, plastic bags, plastic gas cans, galvanized steel items, plastic decking, styrofoam, household garbage and food, building and roofing steel and vinyl flooring to name a few items.”

Carlstrom said the plastic bags are most troublesome as they get caught in the equipment at the Materials Recycling Facility.

Carlstrom has been visiting the town boards in the four townships where the pilot project will occur.


“I believe Recyclops will help Aitkin County improve recycling and hopefully this service will grow to be offered throughout the county,” he said.

“If customers appreciate Recyclops and are satisfied with its rural curbside recycling,” said Carlstrom, “they can sign up for regularly priced service in 2025, which averages between $20-$30 per month.”

Those who live in the townships of Aitkin, Farm Island, Nordland and Spencer who are interested in getting the special price for 2024 should go to and type in their address. Service begins March 1 and goes through Dec. 31 for the special price.