The Recycling Revolution

When Patrick Foy began Trashé, a boutique residential garbage service, a year ago, he thought his target market would be older, wealthier residents.

His service doesn’t require customers to take their trash to the curb. Instead, he pulls in and picks it up from wherever you store your trash. But in his first year, Foy discovered how ingrained trash culture is in American society.

Door County recycled 2,463.94 tons of residential material through municipal recycling programs in 2009. The towns of Clay Banks, Forestville, Sevastopol and Sturgeon Bay as well as the Village of Forestville do not have formal municipal programs and are not included in that total.

“It turned out that a lot of those customers like the social aspect of rolling their trash to the curb and saying hi to their neighbor,” he said. “Instead, people that work are my best customers.”

But get beyond that still-ingrained social function, the image of trash is changing. Recycling programs have grown exponentially in the last 20 years. In fact, when Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal included cuts to recycling aid for municipalities, it was perhaps the one aspect that received bipartisan criticism.

Lynn Morgan, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, said Wisconsin’s recycling programs are among the state’s most popular public programs.

“It seems like it would be a very difficult thing for a municipality to do, to stop running a program,” she said. “There’s a heavy interest among lawmakers to find alternatives to maintain the program.”

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency’s waste census revealed that waste generation per capita has declined by 8 percent since 2000. Some of that is due to the recession, which has caused a large drop in consumption, but that waste census doesn’t include the huge drop in construction and demolition waste that came as a result of the bursting of the housing bubble.

Door County municipal recycling programs diverted 2,463.94 tons of residential material away from the trash stream in 2009, according to the county’s annual report. (That number doesn’t include five municipalities with a total population of 5,000 residents that don’t operate formal municipal programs.)

“You could probably recycle almost anything if you had the time, labor and a way to monetize it,” said Steve Estes of Little Hoppers. “And each year we move closer to that.”

Estes is continually finding new recycling possibilities. His facility recently began accepting asphalt shingles, which can be ground up and recycled into blacktop. Wood can be taken and ground into mulch or for energy as long as it’s not painted (nails are fine – a magnet takes care of metals), and even drywall can be taken and recycled.

Sites in the Milwaukee area are beginning to work on food waste composting, Estes said, but he isn’t aware of anyone doing so in Northeast Wisconsin. Foy said he looked into the possibility of doing compost pickup when he launched Trashé, but there are many prohibitive complications.

“The DNR would kill us on it,” Foy said. “If you could find a place to dump it, you’d have to deal with the run-off somehow, and you’d have to trust a lot of people to not put garbage or hazardous materials in there. I wish there was an easy way to do it, because we do it at home and it cuts down on our trash a lot.”

While recycling efforts are growing, there are still many who aren’t buying in. Foy said many seasonal residents from Illinois tell him they don’t have to recycle because they don’t do it in Illinois. “We’re trying to get that out of their head,” he said.

People throw away tons of yard waste that could make for great mulch and gardening material, and Foy said he sees remarkable efforts to squeeze other items into trashcans.

“People think trash just disappears and it’s cheap – but it’s not,” he said. “I see everything from tree stumps, to full Weber Grills. You can tell people till your blue in the face, but they’re going to do what they’re going to do. I can take it out one day, and leave a note, but I bet most people will try to hide it deeper in the garbage another day rather than drive it down and pay to have it disposed of.”

Door County doesn’t have its own landfill, so for most of us, it’s simply out of sight, out of mind. Door County’s trash is taken to transfer stations, such as the Washington Island dump, Little Hoppers, or Going Garbage in Sister Bay. From there, recycling is re-routed to centers around the state, and trash is sent to landfills in the Fox Valley or Manitowoc.

There it’s covered under layers of dirt pushed around by massive machinery, and that e-waste and hazardous materials we snuck into our trash to save a few dollars is buried, left for another generation to deal with.