City to Study More Recycling Pickups » Urban Milwaukee


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City of Milwaukee & Waukesha County Materials Recovery Facility. Photo by Laura Thompson.

City of Milwaukee & Waukesha County Materials Recovery Facility. Photo by Laura Thompson.

The City of Milwaukee will study expanding household recycling pickup from every three weeks to every two weeks.

The city is poised to accept a $30,000 grant from The Recycling Partnership, a national industry group, to study the requirements to increase the frequency of recycling pickups. The funds will be used to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study of every other week recycling pickup from all of the city’s one to four-unit residential properties. No city funds are required to leverage the grant.

“Basically it’s something we have been on a journey on at [the Department of Public Works] to get to that industry standard service level for a large cart program,” said city sanitation services manager Rick Meyers. “This work will help us define what would be the ongoing operating costs and capital costs to sustain a switch in our service level.”

According to its 2017 annual report, the most recent available, The Recycling Partnership’s funders include Coca Cola, Exxon Mobil, Protector & Gamble, the American Chemistry Council and the Can Manufacturers Institute. The organization, which has an 18-member staff, facilitated $29 million in investments in recycling infrastructure in 2017 through a grant program that requires a seven-to-one local match. The organization worked with 583 communities that year leading to a diversion of 115 million pounds of recyclables and, according to an Environmental Protection Agency formula, avoided the generation of 164,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases. “Their purpose is really to improve recycling in the country,” said Meyers.

The Common Council unanimously voted Tuesday to approve accepting the grant and allocating the proceeds for a consultant.

An increase in frequency could alleviate a common complaint on neighborhood social media pages about the seemingly random winter pickups that occur as recycling and garbage trucks are diverted for use as snow plows.

The study comes as recycling systems across the country have been battered by China’s decision to stop importing many low-quality materials. The changes have reduced the value of reclaimed materials, which cities sell to support their recycling programs.

The Department of Public Works administers the city’s curbside recycling program. Materials are hauled to a materials recovery facility in Menomonee Valley the city jointly owns with Waukesha County. That facility, constructed in 2015, is operated by private contractor Resource Recovery Systems.

In May the city approved a change to the agreement with the contractor that would provide the firm with an additional $457,000 annually. Resource Recovery Systems was reportedly losing $1 million annually as a result of the depressed prices for recycled materials.

According to a report presented to the council by Meyers in 2018, the city’s recycling program cost $10 million to operate in 2017, with a net expense of $4.7 million after revenue from selling materials, state grants, and avoided landfill disposal costs were factored in. Meyers projected an $800,000 loss of revenue in 2018.

Milwaukee is looking to expand its recycling coverage as Memphis and Philadelphia, among a host of other cities, are abandoning or drastically downsizing their programs.

More Recycling Programs?

Council members are pushing for other changes to the city’s recycling program. Council members Nik Kovac and Robert Bauman have requested that DPW study getting Cincinnati-based Kroger, owner of the Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market grocery stores, to collect plastic bags from city libraries and other facilities.

Kovac speculated that Kroger may be not be interested, given that the grocery chain may hope to get business if someone brings bags to a drop-off bin at one of its stores. “We’ll call them the official grocer of the City of Milwaukee,” offered Ald. Bauman at a recent Public Works Committee hearing.

Newly-hired DPW resource recovery manager Samantha Longshore said she has identified the proper people to discuss the matter with at Kroger. “They’re open to doing another event or some kind of education,” said Longshore. She said she would broach the idea of having the company pick up bags from the city.

Bauman has also advocated a bounty program to pay a couple of dollars per tire or mattress turned in to the city as a way to keep the city’s streets clean.

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Related Legislation: File 190282

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