Four new state recycling grants will create 229 jobs and keep tons of glass, paper and plastic trash and food scraps from Minnesota landfills each year, Laura Bishop, the commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), said Thursday during a virtual conference call with grant recipients and legislative leaders.

The first $400,000 in state Recycling Market Development grants ranged in size from $50,000 to $149,000 and went to four Minnesota recycling companies converting trash into useful new ingredients that can generate revenue and jobs.

"Recycling is critical to Minnesota and its economy. It contributes $15 billion to the state's economy and 36,000 direct and indirect jobs," Bishop said during the call with MPCA officials, state Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Acton Township) and four recent grant recipients.

"The projects funded by these [latest] grants aim to create more local demand for recyclable material, increase value for the raw products and maintain or create jobs. I'm excited to talk about this," she said.

The award winners — glass recycler Employment Enterprises in Little Falls; paper processor Greenforest Recycling in Brainerd; Northfield Curbside Compost Cooperative in Northfield; and vinyl tape recycler P.E.C.E. Recycling in Cosmos — used the grants mostly to buy processing equipment.

Combined, they are on track to convert 2,150 tons of waste glass, paper and vinyl tape and 1,100 cubic yards of food scraps a year into new products that bypass Minnesota landfills.

Greenforest Recycling received the largest grant at $149,763 to buy cleaning machines to convert low-grade paper into higher-grade materials such as ceiling tiles, egg cartons, molded paper and other "upcycled products," Greenforest owner Jeff Grunenwald told the MPCA. Greenforest now processes 700 tons of paper each month but will soon do 2,300 tons per month. "The demand for this type of paper is increasing," Grunenwald said, noting that he will soon have three work shifts and add 10 workers.

P.E.C.E. Recycling west of the Twin Cities used its $94,165 MPCA recycling grant to buy a forklift plus stripping, baling and grinding equipment to convert rolls of tossed film and vinyl tape into new garden hoses and livestock bedding. It is hiring 200 workers with special needs across southern Minnesota to help with manufacturing.

Without the state grant, "I don't know that I would have been able to get the project [up] as fast," P.E.C.E. representative Donnie Hopp told the commissioner Thursday.

Pam Baltes, executive director of Employment Enterprises in Little Falls, said MPCA's $51,945 grant helped buy grinding equipment to turn old bottles and jars into sandblasting materials available in different grit sizes.

The Legislature in 2019 authorized the grant funds, which are seen as a powerful economic generator for the state.

The MPCA will begin receiving applications for its next round of recycling grants in June.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725