Recycling in Montana

The importance of recycling

We all hear about how beautiful the state of Montana is. Yes, there are thousands of places to travel to and see around the world. But between the people and the sky, Montana is one of the most amazing places, wide ranges of land and outdoor activities. One may ask “what does that have to do with recycling”. In order to keep this state the Beautiful Big Sky, for generations to come we need to think about recycling and keeping Montana clean. Our generation gets to enjoy the outdoors, glaciers, geysers and so much more. Let’s do our part not for our own sake but for the future of Montana.

Everyone knows about recycling and that there is some importance to it, so why don’t we just do it. Is it the lack of resources, accountability or are we just down right lazy. “Nearly 90 percent of what we throw away could potentially be recovered through reuse, recycling or composting”, (“Figure 2f: Irimai R”). Recycling is just as important as waste management, it is an industry that will provide jobs and ultimately conserve natural resources. Not only does recycling conserves natural resources, but reduces waste, provides economic security, prevent pollution and saves energy. Recycling isn’t as hard as it seems and yet it provides more benefits than waste management. The convenience we have today will not be available in the future if we don’t start taking recycling seriously.

Montana is a large state with a low population, not every rural area has the same resources, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t available. It may take some effort to recycle but truly it is worth it for the future of our state. In this I have come up with three different places in Montana to focus on, and their recycling systems. Missoula, Great Falls and Billings, each one has its own importance. Missoula is the city I attend school in and happens to be one of the more Green cities in Montana. Great Falls is where I am originally from and I would love to see more of a movement in the recycling industry in my hometown. Billings has no special meaning to me personally but it happens to have the largest population in Montana. I would also like to touch on rural communities. Overall, I believe Montana has tons of room to grow in how they recycle and reuse.

Recycling in Montana

In most things Montana is a few years late to any party, but especially on the subject of recycling. In a recent article from the Missoulian, it stated this, “Montana generates nearly 66 percent more waste than the national average and recycle less of the waste than the average American, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality”, (“Montanans Generate”).

I found this shocking considering the number of people we have in the state, but that could also be the reason why. The smaller populations and mass amounts of land, leave a lot of rural areas without recycling centers and opportunities. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t available, it just takes time and effort to reach these places.

In Montana we have City-County transfer stations, recycling haulers and collectors, retailer of recycled materials, manufacturer of recycled materials, recycling processors, and producers-sellers of organic compost, (Portals) There most definitely is a market for recycling, that creates jobs and provides sustainability for Montana.

There are more than a 00 recycling collection points for materials in Montana. From these points the recyclable material is sorted, and prepared for the processing of each item. Some materials must be shipped out of Montana because we don’t have the resources to process them. Unfortunately in Montana there are no mills for recycling so products must be sent out of the state. Even though this is a short coming in the recycling system of Montana, we can reduce waste disposal cost if we substantially reduce the amount of waste we produce. It takes time, energy and resources but the benefits are worth it.

Let’s dive deeper into a few of the processes happening around Montana. Not only do I want to provide you information on where and how to recycle, but I encourage you to take the steps in doing so.

Glacier National Park, Cracker lake.


Missoula Montana, home of the University of Montana, hip, unique and cool as one may call it. It is full of outdoor activities, with mountains and a river surrounding the town, home of great startup companies and local businesses where the people are both genuine and authentic. Missoula also happens to be one of the greenest cities in Montana, where sustainability and recycling matters.

What recycling Missoula offers:

Missoula offers a recycling guide that shows exactly where to take products and what products can be recycled. From Curbside pick to taking items to the recycling center, most things can be recycled in the city of Missoula. Recycling works is the curbside service similar to waste management trash service. It recycles both glass and green waste. Recycling works has the only glass transfer station in Montana, which puts Missoula a little bit further than the rest of the state. There is also Garden City Recycling, which is about a decade old this year. This is another curbside recycling service for both businesses and residents of Missoula. It has a base cost of $20 dollars a month, or four coffees if were comparing prices. Then there is Republic services, anyone can sign up for in Missoula and pay $13 dollars a month, to pick up plastics, tine cans, aluminum cans, newspaper, magazines, phone books and other paper products. All three of these are curbside pick-up recycling services. But Missoula does not stop there, they also have drop off recycling which is more common in the state of Montana. Pacific Steel and Recycling, Axmen Recycling, and PETE’s recycling are all different types of drop off recycling places, each one takes particular materials. Missoula also has an organic waste curbside compost program between soil cycle and Missoula compost collection LLC. The list of companies, organizations and programs Missoula has for recycling seems to go on, but that is the important part, as a city they are trying to recycle and reuse. The cost may seem high at first, but the return on your investment may not be money. It will be the satisfaction of knowing that your future generations will be able to enjoy the environment we have created from recycling and reusing materials.

What recycling or action could be added:

Missoula nearly has every recycling option, but I also find that they would be a really great market to have a mill in. Considering Missoula is one of the cities in Montana that recycles the most, instead of exporting all of the materials out of the state, it could bring in a mill. A mill would be where all the recyclable materials in Montana go and get made back into reusable materials. The benefit of having at least one mill in Montana would be that it stimulates our state economy, provides more jobs and makes it easier for people to see the value of recycling.

One action that would be interesting to explore for each city, not just Missoula would be reducing the use of plastic. Either banning or limiting the use of plastic bags, water bottles and so on. The benefit of not using plastic is that there is no need to recycle something you can’t have. Missoula recycles certain types of plastic but not all, if there was a way to limit this it would reduce plastic waste. Second to this idea, there is also a glass transfer station, and Bayern beer company also recycles glass. Providing an incentive such as a dollar off the next purchase of Bayern beer if one recycles. People love incentives and eating some of the cost might help stimulate the thought to recycle.

Last, curbside pick-up seems to have a price tag with it, although this does not bother me, I know that it is not financially feasible for everyone. If the fixed rate of waste management was reduced, because there is less need for the waste services, the price of recycling could be compensated. This means lowering the price of waste management and transferring that discount onto the recycling services. In hopes that this would force people to recycle rather than produce waste.

Although all of these ideas are for the future it is something to consider for Missoula. Missoula is a great example of what all places in Montana should strive for when considering recycling and reduction of waste.

Great Falls

Great Falls was a part of the historic Lewis and Clark expedition. It is housed on the Missouri River, with different outdoor activities and a smaller population. Great Falls also houses one of the military bases in Montana. It is my hometown and I hope to see exponential growth in the next ten years.

What recycling Great Falls  offers:

Most of Great Falls recycling is drop off and not curbside. Different places recycle, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and gear oil, batteries, cameras, phones, laptops, all metals, oil, anti-freeze, copper, aluminum, and large appliances. However Montana waste systems pick up – cans, cardboard, magazines and junk mail. Pacific steel and recycling used to take plastic, but they have a problem currently where they cannot. There is not a place to take glass or plastic in the city of Great Falls which is very unfortunate. Republic’s services does curbside recycling for only additional two dollars to sanitation fees, collecting, cans, corrugated cardboard, newsprint, magazine and junk mail.  In Great Falls there are ways to recycle, they may take more time to deliver these items to recycling places, but there are certain companies that will do curbside pick-up.

What recycling or action could be added:

Great Falls has a lot of room to grow as a city and in the area of recycling. In comparison with Missoula they are definitely behind the eight ball, they lack the variety of curbside recycling options and the amount of materials to be recycled. One of the first things I would offer, is finding more places that want to do curbside pick-up services.

The second suggestion I have is to find a place that will either start recycling plastics or to transport the materials to another plant in Montana that does. Although, this sounds like a large expenditure I think it would be beneficial to the community as a whole. It might cost a little extra for people to recycle plastic but it is a need when considering the amount of waste.

Next I would also look into transporting the glass to Missoula where they are able to collect and recycle glass. Great Falls has limited resources, but expanding their operation and collaborating with Missoula would help both economies.

Last, all around Great Falls needs to implement more recycling incentives. There are places that pay for you to donate cans, but offering the curbside pick-up is even better. Sure it cost two dollars extra, but the can might provide those companies money to continue to recycle. All around there are many improvements we could do in the City of Great Falls, but tasking ideas in small segments would be easier to accomplish. Great Falls has resources that can be used and make this city both cleaner and more sustainable.


Located in Southeast Montana, Billings is right next to the Yellowstone River. Billings is known for the Rims, where you can both hike and get a great view from. Billings has the largest population in Montana with about 110,000 people.

What recycling Billings offers:

Billings offers both curbside and drop off recycling. One of their main campaigns to recycle in Billings is known as Earth First Aid, it is about $24 dollars per month that is billed quarterly in advance. They pick up every other week, three bins will be labeled, paper, plastic and aluminum. Earth First Aid is not limited to these services, they also collect, corrugated cardboard, plastic bags and glass. There are also companies and the city that pick up yard waste, electronics and hazardous waste. Although, they offer the services alto of these items end up in the land fill. Billings offers all different types of recycling, Bayern Brewing also does the glass drop off in the city of Billings.

What recycling or action could be added:

Considering that billings is one of the largest cities in Montana they have more of an opportunity to provide curbside and different options for recycling. Reading through the charts of what they offer, I was not surprised that is most things Missoula also offers.

One thing they could work on is adding more curbside pick-up options, even though they have Earth First Aid, offering more options would transform the cost. When there are more options, companies and organizations must have competitive rates, as Earth First Aid’s rates are slightly high.

Next, I am happy to see that Billings offers many options, but I noticed that many of the recycling options actually end up back in the landfill. I would encourage that do not actually recycle the materials, to not offer recycling but allow organization and companies that will recycle to the material to take those items.

Last, similar to the idea of cutting the cost of recycling, I think it would be valuable to work with waste management to lower the rates. Billings has a large population and if more people recycle the less need for waste management and the funds can transfer towards recycling. This would cut the cost of monthly recycling rate and change the waste managements fixed rate.

Billings is starting to do their part and it is really great to see, with a few more ideas and incentives I truly believe we can reduce our waste in one of the largest cities in Montana.

Final Thoughts

Personally I don’t find recycling to be hard, but I also appreciate the different sceneries in Montana. When I  am old I still want to be able to go around and see the same sunset and sunrises that I am able to see now. It is clean and I care about reducing waste in Montana. With simple ideas, such as adding curbside pick-up to towns, or more recycling services, Montana can reduce our waste. It is sad that as a state we have some of the highest percentages of waste, let’s do better. If it means paying a little bit extra a month to have recycling services that reach cities and rural areas, producing a mill and more transportation for recycling companies, so be it. I believe what we do today will matter not only tomorrow but in decades. Let us all remember our state in the same beautiful way. Keep the Big Sky Beautiful, recycle, reuse and reduce waste.


“Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic Revision of Rochefortia Sw.

(Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e7720.

Https://” doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f.


Missoulian, ERICKSON. “Montanans Generate More Waste than Average, Recycle Less.” The

Billings Gazette, 6 May 2015,

“Missoula Recycling Guide.” Make It Missoula RSS,


Tercek, Katie. “Hey Great Falls, Did You Know There Are Places to Recycle in Town?” KULR,

23 May 2019,

“Missoula Recycling Guide.” Make It Missoula RSS,



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *