Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget includes eliminating a state law that requires local communities to operate recycling programs.
The budget would also divert revenues from a landfill fee that has subsidized recycling to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a public-private entity that will replace the state’s Commerce Department.
Roger Holman, director of the Waupaca County Solid Waste and Recycling Department, said the county received about $210,000 in state grants in 2010.
“Those funds come from the user fee on garbage,” Holman said. “The primary purpose of the landfill fee was to fund recycling and other environmental programs.”
Trash haulers pay a $13 per ton landfill fee, of which $7 has been used to fund local recycling programs.
“Every time you pay your trash bill, you are paying to support your recycling program,” Holman said.
State grants represent about 38 percent of the funds supporting the local recycling program. The sales of recycled materials provide 32 percent of the program’s revenues, while the rest comes from local taxes and fees.
County Recycling Coordinator Debbie Krogwold believes Walker’s proposal will cost both public and private sector jobs throughout the state. She points to the three arrows in the recycling symbol to explain.
“When you look at the recycling symbol, you see three arrows that represent the three fundamental requirements for a successful recycling industry: collection, processing and re-manufacture, and end market retail sales,” Krogwold said. “There are private companies working in each of those areas and employing thousands of people.”
Krogwold said Waupaca County works with private trash haulers, who collect the recyclable materials and drop them off at the county’s Processing and Transfer Facility (PTF) in Manawa or the five municipal recycling centers in Waupaca County.
PTF processes the materials, then finds markets for them. The private sector provides brokers to bring the materials to market, salvage yards, paper companies and plants that process the materials into a product that can then be used in the manufacturing process for retail products.
Krogwold works with more than a dozen Wisconsin companies that process recycled paper, tin cans, aluminum, plastic, petroleum waste products, old appliances, electronics, scrap metal and electronic equipment.
The number of people who have brought materials to the Waupaca County PTF for recycling has grown from 10,729 in 2006 to 15,561 in 2010.
A 2001 study by the National Recycling Economic Information Project found that recycling had become a $100 billion industry.
According to a recent report by the recycling industry in Wisconsin, Placon Corp. has built a $16 million plastic processing plant that recycles plastic bottles into plastic sheets and containers. Strategic Materials Inc. invested $10 million to build a new plant in East Troy to recycle glass.
Georgia-Pacific, which employs 2,400 workers in Green Bay, uses 400,000 tons annually of recycled paper, the report says. SCA Tissue in Neenah employs 1,000 people to make tissue products made from recycled fiber.
“This bill could have a far-reaching economic impact,” Holman said. Without the recycling mandate, the program could fall apart. The markets need to know that the materials will be available. If the materials are not there, the recycling process falls apart and everybody loses jobs.”
Holman noted that under state law, Wisconsin residents are prohibited from placing their appliances, electronic equipment, oil filters and other materials into landfills. He said the state mandate made it possible to create a system of locally managed county and municipal programs so that residents had a convenient way to recycle their materials.
“The programs were being developed before the mandate because the public demanded better programs for their solid waste,” Holman said. “But the mandates made it easier to manage the total system of collecting the materials and getting them to the markets.”
Krogwold wondered if another consequence of ending recycling may be more dumping along rural roads and more burning of waste as the cost of garbage collections rise.
She observed that the Pay-As-You-Throw program for garbage at the Waupaca Recycling Center represented a significant savings for many residents. The city of Waupaca, as well as Iola and Clintonville, allows local residents to discard their trash for only $2 per bag.
The Pay-As-You-Throw program has grown from an average of 72 users per week in 2004 to 204 users in 2010.
Reflecting on the recycling symbol, Krogwold noted how it was rooted in the first Earth Day celebrations held in 1970.
“Earth Day was started in Wisconsin by Gaylord Nelson,” Krogwold said. “Recycling and concern for the environment are part of our tradition.”