Much of the plastic dumped in recycling containers in Otter Tail County, MN, is shipped away to be turned into plastic lumber. But in a small room tucked in the corner of the recycling facility, Carl Zachmann is making something entirely different. He holds a small mold for making tin soldiers while a machine pumps it full of pink gooey plastic. “I am practicing to make a Napoleon in pink. It’s a good color on him,” said Zachmann, prying apart the mold to show off the pink general.
The Lakes Area Mix Workspace is a small-scale version of a large plastic reuse operation. The open source machines were purchased from a company in the Netherlands called Precious Plastics. The $13,000 cost was funded by Otter Tail, Pope and Douglas counties, the West Central Initiative and Springboard for the Arts.
There’s a shredder to chop the plastic into small pieces, and machines to heat it to about 400 degrees, so it can be formed by molds or shaped freehand as the melted plastic flows from an extrusion machine like hot toothpaste from a tube. “Anybody can do it. I mean, if you can use a hot glue gun, you can use a plastics lab,” said Zachmann, a Fergus Falls metal sculptor. “And we have, so far I think, the most complete one in the entire Midwest, and it’s here in my own little town!”
“Because it is a little unique and it’s the first one of its kind in Minnesota for sure, it might draw people from all over the state and possibly even from surrounding states,” said Otter Tail County waste educator Cedar Walters. “And so we’re hoping that it becomes a kind of a regional community and people can come visit and see what it’s all about.”