Milwaukee, Waukesha County leaders urge residents to 'Recycle Right' to reduce contamination

MILWAUKEE -- It is a messy problem -- but community leaders say there is no way around it. Officials with the City of Milwaukee and Waukesha County have a big problem with garbage -- specifically, recyclable material.

City and county officials in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties are encouraging residents to help reduce contamination by teaching them to “Recycle Right” in their curbside carts and bins this summer.

"So two of our largest export partners, places where we would send tons and tons and tons of our recycling, are now saying either one -- we don't want it, or it better be a lot more pure," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

There is concern that our reusable material is becoming, well, less usable.

"We get about 300 tons a day to be sorted and processed in an eight to ten-hour shift," said Analiese Smith, solid waste supervisor.

Looking at a mountain of trash, employees say over the years more and more material that cannot be recycled is finding its way to the factory floor.

"A lot of people, they throw something in their recycling cart and they think that's the end, it's over. But for us, it's really the beginning," Smith said.

The results -- trash ends up in machines intended for recycled product -- and that is a costly problem.

"So every percent of contamination at this facility costs us annually $30,000," Smith said. "We have a lot of spinning discs, and when plastic bags wrap around the equipment people have to put on harnesses and climb on the equipment several times a day."

What is the answer? The joint Curbside Recycling Guide developed collaboratively between the City of Milwaukee and Waukesha County will help educate residents about acceptable and unacceptable items. By knowing the acceptable recyclables the facility hopes to reduce the unacceptable items being placed into curbside containers, such as plastic bags and bagged recyclables, scrap metal and other potentially hazardous items such as propane tanks. Focusing on education will help improve the economic and environmental sustainability of the recycling program.

"The more pure clean recyclables we can get, the better it is for those markets, as well as the safety of our employees," Smith said.

Residents can learn more about Joint Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and can download the new Curbside Recycling Guide at or They can learn about the statewide effort to “Recycle Right” at