Wisconsin Recycling Excellence Awards
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) celebrates outstanding recycling and waste minimization efforts through its annual Recycling Excellence Award program. Communities, organizations, schools and businesses - both large and small - are eligible and encouraged to apply. In addition to giving recognition, the Recycling Excellence Awards highlights ideas and strategies with proven track records that other organizations may use to improve their recycling endeavors.
One of the goals identified in the DNR's 2021-2025 climate action plan is to reduce per-capita food waste disposed of in Wisconsin landfills by half by 2030 (from 2020 levels). Please note: Food waste recovery or diversion programs are eligible for a Recycling Excellence Award!
Awards are offered in four categories: overall program, projects and initiatives, innovation and special events. Programs may self-nominate or apply on behalf of another program. The table below provides more information on these categories and a list of the 2023 award winners.
2023 Award Categories and Winners
|Projects and Initiatives
|Recognizes a defined project or initiative that increases materials recycled or diverted, and/or improves the cost-effectiveness of a recycling/diversion program.
|Recognizes programs that are robust and constantly improving, demonstrating a commitment to advance the overall recycling/diversion program.
|Recognizes effective recycling at special events, offering participants an enhanced opportunity to recycle or reuse materials.
|Recognizes a program that demonstrates unique and innovative approaches to recycling.
*One of the goals identified in the DNR's climate action plan for 2021-2025 is to reduce per-capita food waste disposed of in Wisconsin landfills by half by 2030. These winners are contributing to the diversion of food waste or scraps from landfills.
2023 Award Winners
Learn more about the award winners and the advice they give to organizations looking to start similar programs or initiatives.
Ashley Furniture’s commitment to being a sustainable company includes limiting waste while reusing and recycling as much as possible at its manufacturing facilities throughout the country. It developed a company-wide tracking program for its recycling and waste management efforts that track cardboard, plastics, metals, wood byproducts, polystyrene, polyurethane foam, electronics and more. In 2022, its Wisconsin facilities recycled 33,645 tons of materials, and more than 92,500 tons were recycled nationwide.
"It is definitely worthwhile to create a recycling program from an environmental sustainability perspective, as well as financially. Managing and tracking wastes and recyclables effectively will result in considerable cost savings for the company. For these two reasons everyone should work to start or improve their recycling programs." - Andrew Meinerz, Director of Environmental
Cortec Coated Products
Cortec Coated Products, a manufacturer of coated specialty paper, board and films for the printing and packaging industry, is pursuing sustainable and eco-friendly practices. The company specializes in applying a special liquid to paper that prevents corrosion and allows the paper to remain recyclable and safe for the environment. Cortec has been collecting and recycling its scrap paper to optimize its management of paper waste. Since this recycling tracking initiative started in 2017, Cortec has recycled 616 tons of paper, equivalent to 12,320 trees left untouched.
"Start with being proactive about education and learning opportunities by attending community and national events that promote ideas and programs that could work with your business. There is no shortage of webinars and local resources that would love to help assess your needs and recommend different initiatives that could work for you." - Derek Jensen, Cortec Corporation Environmental Specialist
Town of Calumet
The town of Calumet operates a drop-off center for waste, recyclables, brush and scrap metal. However, it recognized an unmet need in the community for appropriate, affordable electronics recycling. It partnered with COM2, an electronics recycler, to provide this service at no cost to the town. Materials accepted include computers, monitors, TVs, stereo equipment, small appliances (including vacuum cleaners), cellphones/telephones, microwave ovens and electric motors. Reception from residents has been enthusiastic, with more than 1.4 tons collected in the first three months of operation.
"Call the DNR for advice. They are knowledgeable, friendly and are outstanding partners for communities. Form a small group of concerned residents to formulate a plan to present to community. Publicize what you are offering to your community. Most people want to know how they can contribute to the greater good of our environment through proper recycling and waste management practices." - Don Breth, Town of Calumet
Eau Claire County
Eau Claire County prides itself on providing an accessible and expansive recycling program for its residents while leveraging partnerships with community organizations and businesses. In addition to operating a traditional curbside program and rural recycling sites, the county has added specialty recycling opportunities for residents. In 2022, the county partnered with First Choice Computer Recycling for free electronics and battery collection year-round, collecting more than 620,000 pounds. The county also partnered with 7 Rivers Recycling, Kersten Family Junk Removal and No Boundaries Tiny Homes to offer an affordable mattress recycling option, which diverted 220 mattresses from the landfill. The county received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tackle food waste and has sold more than 300 home composting bins and worked with a local composter to increase school and business composting. The county also partners with local recyclers, community organizations and businesses to provide robust recycling, composting and waste reduction education. In 2023, an Earth Week Open House hosted by a local brewery had more than 30 vendors attend to promote their sustainable businesses and organizations to more than 200 attendees.
"Partnerships with businesses and community organizations within our community has allowed us to increase the affordability and access to proper waste disposal methods within our community for non-traditional recycling." - Regan Watts, Recycling and Sustainability Coordinator
Elm Grove Green Team
Several Elm Grove residents formed the Elm Grove Green Team in 2019. The team focuses on educational programs, improved homeowner engagement and partnerships with businesses. In 2023, the team started its Trash Reduction Initiative to increase landfill diversion. Working with Johns Disposal, the team did a trash sort and audit, sorting 1,340 pounds of trash into various material categories. The audit revealed that nearly 50% of material could have been diverted, including yard waste, recyclables, clothing, plastic bags and food waste. The team shares this startling data with Elm Grove residents in educational programs encouraging proper recycling and increased composting. The promotion has included TV and print media, social media, displays and more.
"Stand on the shoulders of giants. Learn from the many organizations and people already working to help minimize human impact on the environment, then apply it to your community, business or group in a way that you find meaningful. Be sure to involve as many people as you can." - Elm Grove Green Team
Town of Frankfort
The town of Frankfort wanted to expand beyond the average recycling and waste services and is now providing an important service for its residents. The town holds an annual “Tire Day” on the fourth Saturday in September. Working with Bee Line Tire Recycling, the event provides tire recycling for a small fee that is substantially less than other outlets. This simple act allows residents to have a reliable recycling opportunity and prevents illegal burning and dumping in ditches, rivers, forests and along roadways. The response has been so enthusiastic, the town is working to add a spring event and additional materials, including appliances and electronics.
"Listening to your residents or community to hear what services they will use gives you a start to a waste program that will be successful. We have found this route very effective with finding new ways to serve our residents" - Kaitlyn Asplund, Town of Frankfort Clerk
Habitat for Humanity of the Greater La Crosse Region
Since 2018, the ReClaim Program at Habitat for Humanity of the Greater La Crosse Region has offered free salvage and deconstruction services to property owners. ReClaim crews carefully remove materials from buildings that are about to be demolished or renovated. Materials collected from ReClaim projects are sold at the Habitat ReStore or used in Habitat’s home construction projects. This model saves property owners money on dumpsters and disposal fees and disrupts the traditional make-take-dispose approach. Since its inception in 2022, an estimated 312,467 pounds of building materials, appliances and furnishings have been diverted. Not only does ReClaim save this material from the landfill, but salvaged items are sold to community members at discounted prices. Finally, the sale of ReClaim items at the ReStore directly supports Habitat’s work of building and rehabbing affordable homes for local families.
"Form partnerships early, leverage the skills and strengths of each partner, and focus on providing a high quality and unique service to the public." - Natalie Heneghan, Community Outreach Director
Town of Mentor
A few years ago, concerned residents voiced their wish for the town of Mentor to hold collection events for hard-to-get-rid-of items. Following that town hall meeting, the town started an annual Cleanup Day as a designated day when residents could dispose of old appliances, mattresses, furniture, tires and other unwanted or hard-to-get-rid-of items. Held in August this year, residents came out with a line of trucks and trailers even before the event started at 9 a.m., so town workers began the event early. Two 30-ton dumpsters were quickly filled and required a third for overflow. The event collected more than three tons of electronics and appliances, 40 tons of mixed metal and 114 tires.
"The most important thing was reaching out and coordinating a date with vendors to deliver dumpsters to dispose of waste and collect scrap metals, to collect electronics and freon-based appliances, and to collect junk tires. The second most important thing was to promote the event. We created direct mailers and posted regularly on the Facebook page leading up to the event. The third most important thing was to ensure we had enough help to assist residents, direct traffic and collect fees." - Jack Ikhtiari, Clerk/Treasurer
Pellitteri Waste Systems
After implementing the first single-stream materials recovery recycling facility in south central Wisconsin in 2012, Pellitteri Waste Systems set a goal to decrease the amount of non-recyclable items coming into the MRF and increase the recyclables it can accept. To accomplish this, the company launched a recycling education initiative and invested in new technology. Its recent education initiative included a seven-minute video of the facility operations, a series of short (one-minute) recycling tip videos, multilingual recycling education, social media and a Recycle Right mobile app. The amount of non-recyclable material received decreased by 24% after the first year and an additional 8% in 2022. Using technology innovations, Pellitteri was also able to expand the materials that can be recycled. Some of the unique materials now accepted include paper cups, aluminum foil, small metal appliances and shredded paper.
“Be prepared to be flexible and ready to respond quickly to changes and opportunities. Also be encouraged that we live in a wonderful community that values sustainability, and working together we can create a more sustainable, eco-friendly future one program at a time.” - Danielle Pellitteri, Vice President of Pellitteri Waste Systems
Richardson Resale Store
Since 2019, the Richardson Resale Store has been seeking ways to minimize its waste footprint within the community. An arm of Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice, Richardson Resale Store models reduce, reuse or recycle by accepting donations of gifts and belongings from people who have been given “end of life care” through the hospice agency. Some donations are sold to fund patient care, outreach and education programs. If items arrive dirty or broken, volunteers wash and attempt to repair them to save them from the landfill. Richardson Resale has partnered with other entities to identify alternatives for items not easily resold. Some items diverted from landfills include fabric, paper and plastic shopping bags, bubble wrap, unsellable apparel, broken glassware/pottery, metal and wood products and more.
"Be open and partner with others; seek even small ways to wash, fix, upcycle and reuse items that others may see as undesirable. Make it fun with your team by talking it up, speaking to others about sustainability and researching new ideas." - Ruth Weigel, Resale Store Manager
Winter School District/Project Northwood
Winter School District is a small, rural school with grades 4K-12 all in the same building. Project Northwoods partners with the Winter School District to teach conservation and recycling to district students and the community. During the 2022-2023 school year and continuing for the 2023-2024 school year, students participating in the district’s school lunch program have saved fruits and vegetables to feed the high school science animals. Material was weighed and recorded daily, and more than 30 pounds of food waste has been diverted since August 2023. This initiative has not only diverted food waste from the landfill and aided in feeding the classroom animals but is also teaching students to think about whether they will eat the food they take and what happens when they don’t eat it.
"Just go for it! With our recycling of veggies from school lunch, it was as simple as placing out an empty ice cream bucket and encouraging students to put their leftovers in it! So far this school year we have saved over 100 pounds from the garbage and are feeding our classroom animals these yummy vegetables!" - Dr. Julie Ray, Project Northwoods Nature Center
2022 Award Winners
Learn more about the award winners and why waste reduction and diversion is important to their organization.
Box-Me! is a minority-owned cardboard recycling business operating in the Milwaukee area. Started in 2021, Box-Me! specifically targets cardboard for collection and diverts 60 tons from landfills each month. The company brings a container to businesses, free of charge, for employees to dispose of broken-down, clean cardboard. Box-Me! estimates businesses could save 75% of their recycling and trash bills.
"Reduction and diversion are extremely important to my organization because we have not learned anything yet about coexisting with the blue marble. The amount of waste will continue to grow in devastating numbers, and this will have negative effects and consequences. If I can reduce this amount, a tiny bit, I am willing to do it by diverting cardboard and trying to recycle as much as possible. Diverting cardboard means that there is a higher possibility that it will not get contaminated, get burned or end up in landfills. That's why reduction and diversion is important to me, and maybe I can learn a bit more about coexisting with the blue marble and persuade others to do their part as well." - Alan F. Lozano, owner, Box-Me!
Bucket Ruckus started with an idea from a group of UW-Stevens Point students and an advisor. Bucket Ruckus diverts organic waste from landfills using a curbside compost collection system. It partners with several local businesses to reduce environmental impact, including working with Curbwise to collect the 5-gallon buckets from the curb and to deliver clean buckets to customers. Curbwise is bicycle-powered and operates year-round! Materials are aggregated and composted at a local farm.
"Waste reduction and diversion are elemental means in pivoting our society to one that is more adaptable and resilient. The need for this pivot has become more apparent after experiencing supply chain shortages of all types of consumer goods and unprecedented natural disasters. Diverting organic material from landfill disposal can be one of the simplest, yet impactful, lifestyle changes to make in alignment with overall reduction and diversion. Bucket Ruckus exists to raise awareness of the importance of organics diversion and composting and increase accessibility to those activities. We are so proud to be working in this field and championing an alternative to conventional waste management." - Kelly Adlington, Bucket Ruckus
City of Platteville
In 2021, the city of Platteville revamped its Spring Clean-up into a Spring Swap. Previously held in May around the end of the UW-Platteville school year, the event was moved to April and promoted as a free, city-wide yard sale. This allowed people to reuse items instead of discarding them. Volunteers were on site to inspect items and help unload donations, as well as load them into vehicles for new owners. Unclaimed clothing items were also donated to the local thrift shop.
“Waste reduction and diversion is important to the city of Platteville for two reasons: cost and it is the right thing to do. Every pound of waste reduced or diverted reduces disposal costs for city taxpayers. It also reduces the disposal burden on current and future generations." - Howard Crofoot, public works director, City of Platteville
Compost Crusader has been active in southeastern Wisconsin since 2014, diverting food scraps from landfill disposal. It has focused on helping corporations, schools, special events, restaurants and residents create healthy composting habits. By providing curbside compost service and utilizing three different compost sites, Compost Crusader diverts over 200,000 pounds per month of food scraps and yard materials.
"Diverting food scraps and yard waste from landfill through composting is a tangible low-tech solution for avoiding greenhouse gas emissions right away. It just makes sense! We aim to make it as easy as possible for individuals and businesses to adopt this new habit." - Savannah Kenny, operations manager, Compost Crusader
Green Bay Packaging
In 2021, Green Bay Packaging began operation of its new Green Bay Mill which is taking water, energy, greenhouse gas reduction and fiber recovery to the next level. Through investment and technology, the mill has reduced waste by more than 30% per ton of production. The new operation is capable of accepting more types of recyclable paper and expanding market opportunities. Additionally, Green Bay Packaging's eight Wisconsin-based converting operations have achieved 98% landfill diversion.
"Waste reduction and landfill diversion for Green Bay Packaging is a key measure of end-value performance, materiality efficiencies, and process optimization. Recycling and resource-saving actions benefit the environment and align with our company commitment to producing sustainable paper packaging." - Stacy Brault, corporate environmental engineer, Green Bay Packaging
Greener Bay Compost
Greener Bay Compost is a two-person, family-run composting business with the goal to “make Green Bay a little greener every day.” Debuting in August 2021, its residential compost pick-up service has grown from 16 to 120 residential subscribers. The service also works with small businesses. Waste such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells are collected in five-gallon buckets and paper bags. At their compost site, these materials are converted into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, which they then reward to their subscribers, donate to worthy organizations and sell to the general public.
"Waste reduction and diversion is important to us because we believe that food waste is not garbage. It is a valuable resource, full of nutrients, which should be put back into the earth, not into a landfill." - Cory Groshek, founder and CEO, Greener Bay Compost
Lakeshore Recycling Systems
Lakeshore Recycling Systems' new materials recovery facility in DeForest began operation in 2021 and utilizes circular design processing equipment. The revolving table recirculates recyclables and enables multiple chances at sorting compared to a traditional linear conveyor belt. The design also results in a lower energy demand and increases teamwork, quality of baled materials and flexibility to adapt to changing recyclable material streams. The facility also offers DeForest and Windsor residents a new recycling drop-off site.
“Waste reduction and diversion is part of LRS’ core values and how we do our part to preserve our environment. Through the use of innovative technology, such as the Revolution Systems equipment at our DeForest Single-Stream Recycling MRF, LRS strives to redefine the way the world views waste by diverting as much material from landfills as possible. The Revolution Systems’ innovative circular design with a revolving table enables multiple chances for our team members to recover and sort material compared to a traditional linear sorting line.” - John Sliwicki, senior vice president of MRF Operations, Lakeshore Recycling Systems
LaPointe Materials Recovery Facility
Located on Madeline Island, the town of LaPointe’s materials recovery facility developed a new vision for operations and customer service. Improvements include new signage and barrel design to reduce cross contamination and make recycling easier, providing music onsite on Polka Saturdays and sorting assistance for residents who need it. Through a partnership with a local church, they opened a secondhand store to divert usable household items and generate revenue for a local food pantry. Summertime tours, afterschool programs utilizing recycled paint and customer appreciation days are all used to educate residents and visitors: “if it arrives on the island, it has to be taken off the island.”
"Waste reduction and diversion is important to the LPMRF because recycling is a social function and can only be streamlined with interaction, outreach and education. After a massive cleanup and consolidation effort, we reprioritized space for people because people are what makes recycling a success. Our partnership with St. Johns UCC and the Island Closet has created a volunteer opportunity for community members to immerse themselves in the process of waste diversion and upcycling household materials. When customers ask, “Is this recyclable?” it opens the door to an exchange of ideas that strengthens our relationship with the community. We strive for courteous efficiency." - Martin A. Curry, recycling supervisor, Town of LaPointe
Milwaukee Area Technical College of Culinary Arts
Utilizing an industrial composter, the Culinary Arts Program at Milwaukee Area Technical College has reduced their landfill output by 70%. Finished compost is used in raised bed gardens and at the Mequon campus in their Horticulture class. The compost also was used to grow heirloom garlic cooked by culinary students.
"Waste reduction and diversion are necessary for MATC as a local community member to reduce food waste and divert the rest from our local landfills. As a learning institution, we are preparing the current and next generation of community members and leaders to learn about this and become part of the solution." - Michael J. Sitte, Ph.D., dean of the Creative Arts, Design and Media Pathway, Milwaukee Area Technical College
Nestlé’s chocolate manufacturing facility in Burlington has a goal of sending zero waste to landfills, and they utilize circular economy concepts and partnerships to do so. Personal protective equipment from daily operations (including ear plugs, hair nets, and face masks) is sent to create fireplace pellets. Cocoa bean sacks are reused, cocoa bean waste is sent offsite for composting and bean shells are used for garden mulch. Additionally, the facility sends salvageable food waste to a local farm for animal feed and liquid waste for composting.
“As a food manufacturer, is important to our organization that we make sure all of the waste generated from manufacturing operations is recovered and diverted responsibly. This site utilizes this opportunity to create value for the environment, community and local businesses. The site’s Conservation Team and every single employee have done an outstanding effort towards the goal of reaching a ‘zero waste to landfill’ status.” - Anthony Rivera-De Jesus, regional environmental specialist, Nestlé USA
Town of Vinland
The town of Vinland took on a six-month challenge to collect 500 pounds of plastic bags and plastic film. Information was provided to residents via the town website and mailings to encourage involvement. In total, 545 pounds were collected and sent to TREX, a company that awarded the town with a resin bench made from the plastic. The program successfully made residents aware of the benefit of recycling, and another six-month challenge is underway.
"The town of Vinland is a small town with huge community involvement in recycling efforts from the lakeshore to the countryside." - Karen Brazee, clerk, Town of Vinland
Village of Bayside Public Works Department
Bayside, a Green Tier Legacy Community, is consistently working to become more environmentally friendly. Residents can drop off items at the village hall to be recycled or reused, such as eyeglasses, ink cartridges, cell phones and plastic bags. Bayside partners with Dream Bikes and Habitat for Humanity to repurpose items, collects logs after tree removal to be repurposed into building lumber, paper pulp or firewood, and educates residents through a comprehensive collection guide, special events and online videos.
"Here at Bayside, we strongly believe that anything that can be recycled, should be. Keeping waste out of the landfill is important in keeping a sustainable and less polluted environment. That's why we believe in circular recycling and doing our best to reuse and repurpose items. This mindset is what pushes our department of public works to keep coming up with innovative ideas for better and proper recycling practices that are affordable or at no cost to our residents. Less waste going to a landfill means more reusing and less pollution, two important factors in sustainability and what we, as a department strive for." - Shane Albers, Department of Public Works operations superintendent, Village of Bayside