Contamination of MIlwaukee Recyclables

Working in Milwaukee communities like Bay View, Whitefish Bay, and the Third Ward, there has been an ongoing and increased participation in local sustainability efforts, particularly recycling and re-use. Unfortunately the gains made through recycling efforts may not add up to the gains reported by interested parties.

The collection and reporting of recycled waste volume includes collected waste but does not include a transparent account of contamination levels. This raises questions about the accuracy of what is actually being recycled as compared to what is or has been reported. Just because a certain volume of material was collected, it does not necessarily mean that the reported volume was actually recycled.

The problem stems from an unwillingness of private waste haulers to disclose or even discuss contamination levels. When recyclables like plastics, cardboard, paper, aluminum and glass are all mixed together, the probability of contamination increases.

The standard contamination allowance for commingled recyclables is approximately 10%. Any batches or loads that exceed 10% cannot be processed into useful material. As a result, the contaminated load is sent to the dump for disposal.

All we know for sure is that a particular volume of material was collected. We also know that the material came from containers, bins or dumpsters labeled “recyclable”.

What we do not know is whether the waste collected was contaminated. Wisconsin’s accepted or allowable contamination level for recycled material is approximately 10%.  So if a truck load of residential recycled material is contaminated the collected material cannot be processed and is thus considered trash.

The contamination level needs to be addressed by private rubbish haulers. This is a critical point.

As addressed previously, the allowable contamination level for commingled or mixed recyclables is 10%.

Contamination levels above that threshold compromise the entire batch of collected material. The result then is nothing more than a complete waste, a waste of resources, a waste of time and most importantly a waste of public trust.

Most residents take their civic responsibility seriously when it comes to sustainability and public health. It would be fitting and proper for private haulers to do the same. A good start would be disclosing transparent data on collected material and comparing that data to levels of contamination. This would provide Milwaukee residents and public officials with the necessary information to make changes where necessary.

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