Are you recycling the wrong things? New push for better-informed recycling in Milwaukee area

Recycling rates in the Milwaukee area are higher than the national average, but area leaders are still seeing a need for people who live here to focus on the "what" - what they're recycling.

It's the quality of the materials entering the joint Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) that prompted a news conference earlier today about what it means to "Recycle Right."

Republic Services, Inc. Vice President of Recycling and Sustainability Pete Keller offered his own definition of what that phrase means.

"Another way to say it is, know what to throw, or when in doubt throw it out," Keller added. 

"We find in the recycling business that there are a lot of well-intentioned people that think that they're doing a better job for the environment by putting more material in the recycling stream. They're actually causing more harm than good. We get a lot of material that shouldn't be in the stream. For example, a lot of customers confuse re-use with recycle. So, we get plenty of things that should be donated through re-use like blue jeans, old sneakers, lampshades, and blankets." 

Keller also mentioned the potential threat that non-recyclable materials bring can lead to contamination. 

"We also get a lot of food and liquid waste," said Keller. 

"Half-eaten pizza, half-eaten hamburgers, things like that. Although liquid and food waste are easily separated by our equipment, they can contaminate paper and cardboard. It's really important to consider what you're putting in the recycle stream because cross-contamination can cause perfectly good cardboard and paper not to be salable. We really encourage our residents to make sure they understand what's acceptable and what's not acceptable in your community, and to also focus on making sure you're recycling right. We also like to say empty, clean, and dry. So, when we talk about food and liquid waste, let's just make sure the packaging material, the printed papers, or the old cardboard boxes are empty, clean, and dry."

Keller is pointing people to to help educate them on the right way to recycle.

"It has a number of downloadable materials, a bunch of videos, and some expert tips to steer the residents in the right direction," explained Keller. 

"I also would definitely point local residents to the city and county websites for more information on recycling."

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