Wauwatosa sees rise in refuse amid pandemic

The City of Wauwatosa is seeing an unexpected impact of the COVID-19 pandemic -- more garbage.

Officials say not everyone is disposing of their trash and recycling properly. A public education campaign aims to help residents sort it all out.

This year, the Wauwatosa Department of Public Works has collected approximately 5% more trash and recycling compared to previous years. While that might not sound like a lot, it equates to 750 tons.

If residents are sorting their items incorrectly, it can result in a big headache. With wrapping paper, boxes and even some unwanted gifts overflowing on the curb, the city is educating the public this week on how to properly sort.

"This time of year, we get a lot of questions about holiday recycling. Can I recycle foam packing peanuts? No, they belong in the trash," said Eva Ennamorato, Wauwatosa communications specialist.

The city has unveiled billboards on its garbage trucks to promote a new online tool -- Waste Wizard. Residents are encouraged to visit the site, which helps them determine where an item should go.

"Plastic bags, for example, are something we see a lot of in our recycling. But plastic bags are very thin, and they get caught in the recycling sorter," Ennamorato said.

On Wednesday, FOX6 News put residents' refuse knowledge to the test.

"What should you do with wrapping paper? I do not believe wrapping paper can be recycled. Only craft paper can be," said resident Zoe Hastert. "What should you do with a pizza box? I don't think they can be recycled because of the grease."

Hastert had done her research.

"I still want to check out that tool online because there are a lot of things I’m definitely not sure about," Hastert said.

Wauwatosa garbage truck

Margie Pecus with the Wauwatosa Green Neighbor group is hoping more residents adopt the commitment to being cognizant of what we throw out. She began collecting plastic bags to be upcycled as park benches and sleeping mats for the homeless.

"This plastic is all from people that have continued to drop plastic off," said Pecus. "We’re still hoping, once this is all over, that we can start that project up again."

One holiday item that many people are probably wondering about: What should you do with Christmas lights?

They don't belong in recycling or trash and must be specially disposed of like a hazardous material.

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Got holiday gift waste? DPW has tips for proper disposal

Sorting waste from holiday shipping and gift wrap can get a little confusing, but the DPW has answers to some common questions.