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Wisconsin Recycling Excellence Awards

The Department of Natural Resources recognizes outstanding recycling and waste minimization efforts through its annual Recycling Excellence Award program. This page contains information about the award nomination process and highlights the achievements of recent winners.

The Recycling Excellence Awards celebrate outstanding recycling efforts, innovation and performance throughout Wisconsin. Communities, organizations, schools and businesses—both small and large—are eligible and encouraged to apply for recognition of recent recycling and waste diversion initiatives. The DNR offers the Recycling Excellence Awards not only in recognition of efforts made but also as a way of highlighting ideas with proven track records that others might use to improve their recycling endeavors.

Awards are offered in four categories: overall program, projects and initiatives, innovation, and special events. Programs may self-nominate or submit an application on behalf of another program. More information on each of these categories and a list of the 2019 award winners is provided in the table below.

2020 Recycling Excellence Award nominations now being accepted

Nomination forms are available online and are due Sept. 15. Submissions should include a written description of the outstanding recycling achievements that deserve recognition, including dates, locations and recycling data if applicable and available. Applicants are also encouraged to submit supporting materials, including education and outreach examples, high resolution photos, tables, charts and website links.

2019 award categories and winners

DNR 2019 awards news release

Category Recognition 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.
  • Aldo Leopold Elementary School
  • Alliant Energy
  • Digital Bridge
  • Edgar School District
Overall Program Recognizes programs that are robust and constantly improving, demonstrating a commitment to advance the overall recycling/diversion program.
  • 7 Rivers Recycling
  • Purdy Elementary School Green Team
  • City of New Richmond
  • University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Innovation Recognizes a program that demonstrates unique and innovative approaches to recycling.
  • Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations
  • ERbin

2019 honorable mention

  • Town of Black Wolf: Hosted a household hazardous waste Clean Sweep and electronics collection at the Black Wolf Town Hall, collecting thousands of pounds of chemicals, hazardous materials, TVs and other electronics.
  • Town of River Falls: Ran a Recycling Extravaganza to encourage waste reduction during spring cleaning time giving participants the opportunity to properly dispose of recycling at a discounted fee.
  • Town of White River: Increased the quantity of recyclables collected year over year for three consecutive years.

2019 highlights of award winners

The Recycling Excellence Awards recognize innovative and exciting recycling and waste reduction efforts by local and tribal governments, businesses and other groups in Wisconsin. Below are highlights from the 2019 Recycling Award winners.

7 Rivers Recycling recycles old mattresses in new ways

Mattresses waiting to be recycled

7 Rivers Recycling in Onalaska received the Overall Program Award for developing methods to enable the recycling of old mattresses. Mattresses cause problems when disposed of in landfills due to their size, density and material. 7 Rivers deconstructs the mattresses, primarily to recover the steel, foam and wood. The company sends the steel to be smelted and made into new steel products, makes the foam into carpet backings and grinds the wood into wood mulch for a variety of uses. 7 Rivers estimates it will recycle more than 12,000 mattresses in 2019.


Aldo Leopold Elementary School makes a big dent in cafeteria waste

Aldo Leopold Elementary School in Madison won a Projects and Initiatives Award for creating and maintaining a waste reduction and recycling program in its cafeteria. The program focuses on easy waste reduction techniques to divert waste and promote sustainability. By simply educating students on how and why to recycle milk cartons and sort and stack the food trays, lunch waste volume has been reduced by about 75%.

Alliant Energy strategically reduces tons of construction waste at a 90-acre site

Alliant Energy West Riverside Energy Center construction recycling project

Alliant Energy won a Projects and Initiatives Award for developing a waste management and recycling program for its construction of the West Riverside Energy Center (WREC) near Beloit. The program manages tons of materials generated during construction at the 90-acre project site and includes an active training component and collaboration with local organizations. As of July 2019, their data show 87 percent of waste generated from the WREC project site has been diverted from the landfill.

Digital Bridge gives new life to electronics and computer access to those in need

Workers unloading at Digital Bridge

Digital Bridge, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, won a Projects and Initiatives Award. The group collects and refurbishes business computers, then redistributes the devices to low-income individuals and nonprofits. As of fall 2019, Digital Bridge has redistributed more than 1,000 computers. Digital Bridge is providing access to affordable technology as well as setting up computer labs for communities that need them.

Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations recycles millions of pounds of electronics and builds new relationships

Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations is a comprehensive electronics recycling company and registered E-Cycle Wisconsin recycler. The company began as a small operation in Onalaska, which now serves as the company's headquarters, but over the past 12 years has grown to include a Tennessee operation. In addition to handling over 200 million pounds of material since opening, Dynamic is receiving an Innovation Award for their work as a participant in the Tennessee Material Marketplace. Between the two locations, they work with companies like porcelain tile producer Florim USA and JM Smucker Company to pick up materials in Tennessee, recycle electronics and refurbish products in Wisconsin, then remarket resources back in Tennessee.

Edgar School District reduces, reuses and recycles in its schools

In the Edgar School District (Marathon County), science teachers from the middle and high schools created a step-by-step plan to enhance their recycling program. Working with administration and maintenance, the number and sizes of recycling bins were evaluated and increased. Staff also focused on the better placement of the recycling containers for easier access and proper use. The district put training in place and adopted a goal of an effective district-wide program that “reduces, reuses and recycles while minimizing the footprint our community leaves.”

ERbin builds an app to connect residents with local recycling options

ERbin, a startup based in Wausau, won an Innovation Award. The company was founded by CEO Michelle Goetsch and co-founder (and brother) Charles Kijek on the idea that an app could help residents figure out what to recycle. In the past two years, ERbin has developed a phone app that will allow residents to scan barcodes of items in their homes and learn if the materials are locally recyclable. Currently in beta testing in the village of Weston and piloted this summer with an organics collection project in Madison, ERbin strives to provide easily accessible information on how to recycle right.

The city of New Richmond overhauls residential recycling program

The city of New Richmond in St. Croix County won an Overall Program Award for its comprehensive update of the city’s residential recycling services, which had not been revisited since 1996. In 2018, the city began roundtable discussions with recycling contractors and utilized an online and paper survey to solicit input from the community. The analysis led to a conversion to automated single-stream recycling. The city also works with TerraCycle to recycle cigarette filters in its downtown district.

Purdy Elementary School Green Team cleans up wetland and tackles school waste

Purdy Elementary Green Team

The Purdy Elementary School Green Team in Fort Atkinson won an award for Overall Program. The Green Team is made up of teachers and students in 4th and 5th grades. They are working hard to reduce waste destined for the landfill from their school. They recycle trash and compost organic materials they remove from the nearby Brietzke Educational Wetland. They are also working on ending the single-use plastic problem, recycling milk cartons and many other classroom initiatives.

UWSP continues to lead in campus-wide recycling and waste reduction efforts

UW-Stevens Point recycling program

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point won an award for Overall Program. The UW campus has a long history of waste reduction, recycling and sustainability. UWSP was the first UW campus to have recycling chutes in all residential buildings and offer composting in every academic building on campus. They also vermicompost, using worms to digest food waste and produce nutrient-rich castings, which are spread as a soil supplement on-campus gardens. Other waste diversion initiatives include a student-run food pantry, elimination of plastic straws and the University Surplus reuse program.

2018 highlights of award winners

The Recycling Excellence Awards recognize innovative and exciting recycling and waste reduction efforts by local and tribal governments, businesses and other groups in Wisconsin. Below are highlights from the 2018 Recycling Award winners.

Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin educates through social media campaigns

AROW recycling campaign logo

The Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin received the Projects and Initiatives Award for conducting effective statewide recycling education. In 2017, the organization reworked its website, providing a resource about waste reduction, recycling, composting and disposal of special wastes for residents and businesses. It also developed a social media presence on Facebook by the same name that shares tips about recycling right from around the state as well as from national organizations. The group conducted social media campaigns for Earth Day and America Recycles Day (2017) with measurable increases in participation. A social media initiative for America Recycles Day was about recycling right and was themed, “The 12 Days of Recycling,” including six “do’s” and six “don’ts” for recycling.

Badger Materials and partners Wolf, MCC and Tri-County Paving collect and process shingles for reuse

Badger Materials staff with award

Badger Materials Recycling of Oconomowoc and its partners Wolf, MCC and Tri-County Paving received the Overall Program Award for shingle recycling collection and processing and for their ongoing efforts to provide clear education about acceptable materials. Badger has its own customized equipment for processing shingles and tires, both for reuse in asphalt materials. It also processes wood for animal bedding, mulch and paddock fill. Through its website and Facebook account, Badger provides detailed explanations, enhanced by photos and lists that clearly delineate sorting protocol and acceptable and non-acceptable materials. Fliers are available for download. Badger Materials and its partners provide four drop-off facilities, all with processing equipment and employees serving a broad region of the state. They pick uploads and also recycle metals. Contributing processed shingles as a portion of aggregate used for making roadbeds, conserves aggregate reserves. In 2017, Badger Materials recycled approximately 44 tons of recycled asphalt shingles.

Eagle River Elementary’s Recycling Club collects traditional and unique materials

Students in the Eagle Base Recycling Club

Eagle River Elementary School in Vilas County received a Projects and Initiatives Award for starting and operating an in-school recycling program and encouraging three other schools to recycle also. The students created the Earth Base Recycling Club with 20 to 40 students meeting weekly to sort the recyclables for pickup and to collect other items such as juice pouches, markers and crayons and send them to companies for repurposing. The club donates all proceeds to local environmental and animal shelter organizations.

Eau Claire County Recycling creates a new Recycling and Disposal Guide

Eau Claire County representatives with award

The Eau Claire County Recycling Division received a Projects and Initiatives Award for focusing on education through a multi-faceted communications plan. The county wanted to improve its residents’ access to information about recycling and proper disposal of various waste types. It created a new Recycling and Disposal Guide and mailed it to all residents. The county revamped its website to include more images, hyperlinks, graphics and also new guide, which receives about 350 views per month. The county increased its social media postings to five per week and its Facebook posts reach 23,600 people. The county’s Summer Clean Sweep recycling event had the largest turnout on record.

Helfenstein Soup Council promotes recycling through creative reuse workshops

Helfenstein representative with award

The Helfenstein Soup Council of Green Bay received an Innovation Award for promoting recycling through reuse by transforming lawns or portions of lawns into flower and vegetable gardens and creating ‘new’ objects that are both artistic and practical. Examples of their projects include: scrap pieces of wood made into bird houses and signs, cat toys made from burlap, purses made from blue jeans, greeting cards from used paper, and many options for yard and garden walkways and ornaments. Volunteers have promoted the ‘trash to treasures’ reuse message through workshops, classes and conference presentations at schools, libraries, clubs, conferences and other groups, all of which are zero waste events. Attendees have said that they go away inspired to rethink what they throw away.


Hilltopper Refuse and Recycling creates a new position for regional special event recycling

Hilltopper special event recycling bins

Hilltopper Refuse and Recycling Services, Inc. of Onalaska received a Special Events Award for creating a job position specifically to focus on special events recycling in the region. The new staff person organized recycling at a number of events, provided education for event organizers and attendees, and conducted assessments after the events with Hilltopper staff, all with the goal of improving community recycling habits. Events included a 70,000-person music festival, a parade, large dinners, community days and others, and yielded more than six tons of recyclables. Hilltopper was pleased with volume of recyclables collected and the enthusiastic response from the public.

Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens diverts herbivore waste to composting

Elephant at the Milwaukee Zoo

The Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens received an Honorable Mention for Projects and Initiatives. In 2017, the zoo completed its first full year in partnership with Blue Ribbon Organics for herbivore animal waste diversion. The zoo has more than 3,000 animals; one elephant produces hundreds of pounds of waste per day. The zoo trucks the waste to the composting facility and last year diverted 609 tons of waste from the landfill to reuse through the composting process.

Village of Weston starts task force to improve recycling and creates new Refuse & Recycling Guide

Village of Weston representatives with award

The Village of Weston received the Overall Program Award for establishing a Refuse/Recycling Task Force Committee to improve recycling and for developing a comprehensive Refuse and Recycling Guide. The reference can be used all year for community-specific information on what to put in carts, what not to put in carts, and how to properly recycle or dispose of many materials such as used oil, appliances, prescription medications, sharps, batteries and more. The guide also alerts residents to holiday scheduling, reports on recycling tonnages and provides information about resources for event recycling. The village also conducted waste audits and documented results and holds an annual recycling contest with gifts for winners in honor of America Recycles Day.

Waukesha County Parks and Land Use create innovative recycling exhibit and curriculum

Waukesha County recycling exhibit

The Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use received an Innovation Award for creating an interactive recycling exhibit and a comprehensive environmental curriculum for K-12 students. After selling the county’s materials recovery facility and partnering with the city of Milwaukee, only 5th graders and older could tour the recycling facility serving their families. Waukesha County took two actions to continue recycling education and environmental stewardship for youth. It partnered with the Retzer Environmental Learning Center to design a multi-room, hands-on recycling exhibit called Your Actions Matter: A Collaborative Solution for Recycling Education. Visitors handle materials and make decisions about material routing in various exhibit settings, including a home and yard, materials recovery facility, re-manufacturing center and local market. The exhibit is also part of a new, cooperative K-12 comprehensive environmental curriculum called Science & Environmental Education: Community Connection, Impacts & Actions. Created in partnership with the Waukesha School District and Carroll University, the curriculum emphasizes recycling and is being used in all the schools in the Waukesha School District.

West Allis sees recycling increase with change to carts and extensive communications plan

West Allis "We're on a roll" logo

West Allis Department of Public Works received the Overall Program Award for upgrading their recycling collection from 30-gallon bags to 96-gallon carts for 22,000 residents in homes and apartments up to 4-plexes. The city developed and implemented a Recycling Cart Conversion Communications Plan that included multiple audiences, two languages, four social media platforms, their website, a newsletter, an informative brochure with an e-cycling page, a reinforcement sticker, postcards, a video and a Frequently Asked Questions door knob hanger. The city’s investment is paying off. The amount of recyclables collected increased by 50 percent and the city now meets it per capita collection standard for the first time since 2010.

2017 highlights of award winners

Below are highlights from the 2017 Recycling Award winners.

McKinley Elementary reduces waste by composting and recycling plastic bags

McKinley Elementary recycling program

McKinley Elementary School in Milwaukee County received the Projects and Initiatives Award for starting a new cafeteria composting program and expanding its recycling program. Two teachers developed a working partnership, including school staff, parents and Compost Crusaders. The school also began to collect and recycle plastic grocery bags. Diverting organics from the waste stream and improving recycling resulted in a reduction in trash pick-ups and the need for a larger recycling dumpster. The Wauwatosa School District offered open enrollment to the rest of the district’s schools to be a part of the compost program. Students from McKinley give presentations about the composting process to encourage the other schools to join in.

“The 90s called. They want their bin back.” Outagamie County transitions rural communities to carts

Outagamie County recycling bin and cart

The Outagamie County Recycling and Solid Waste Program received the Projects and Initiatives Award for transitioning 13 rural municipalities to larger, automated carts. This resulted in increased tonnage collected and improved set-out rates. The county received a grant from the Recycling Partnership toward the purchase of new 95-gallon wheeled carts and to provide outreach and education about the new project. The county’s outreach included postcards, billboards, banners and a TV spot with a catchy phrase, “The 90s called. They want their bin back.” The county also held a special media event to kick off the new carts. Recycling increased in those communities by 14 percent in less than a year.

Rick Schultz and Watertown pilot new recycling projects

Rick Schultz with award

Rick Schultz and the city of Watertown received the Projects and Initiatives Award for taking a risk on a new beneficial reuse for glass, accepting material for beneficial use in his gravel pit. Schultz has a history of being willing to try new things to divert materials from landfills, often being first to pilot a project. Examples include a latex paint collection program, where the paint was recycled (as opposed to dried and disposed of), which ended in December 2017, and a retired mattress recycling program. Even when an initiative doesn’t work out, Schultz does not hesitate to try again. This is a risk communities take when they are willing to take a chance on a new idea/provider.

Jerry Martell and Modern Disposal Systems provide years of recycling solutions

Jerry Martell with award

Jerry Martell and Modern Disposal Systems received the Overall Program Award. Through commitment, creativity and sustained effort over many years, Martell and his business, Modern Disposal Systems, have encouraged recycling throughout the region. Jerry partnered with Buffalo County Solid Waste to develop recycling collection systems for each township. When Monroe County’s recycling transfer station was operating at capacity, Modern Disposal itself invested in two more transfer stations to serve the county, saving the county the expense of expanding or building a new facility. Besides working to improve recycling programs in western Wisconsin, Martell has supported the students in the Sparta High School Earth Club to expand the types of materials they recycle. Martell is known for strategizing about recycling efficiency even if it means less income for Modern Disposal.

Milwaukee House of Correction inmates volunteer in recycling program with dual benefit

House of Corrections staff with award

The Milwaukee County House of Correction received the Overall Program Award for institutional diversion of trash with its recycling program. Inmates who choose to participate in the recycling program earn an hour of “good time” for every hour worked. This program has the dual benefit of reducing the time from their sentence (inmates work an average of 24 hours/week to remove one day from their sentence) and educating them on the recycling process. Recycling efforts have resulted in a 33 percent reduction in waste at the facility.

Preschool of the Arts expands recycling program and starts composting

Compost carts outside of Preschool for the Arts

The Preschool for the Arts received an honorable mention in the Overall Program Award category. A newly formed sustainability committee, under the direction of Kristin Slava, worked to increase recycling at the school, including batteries and electronics. The school also partnered with the city of Madison to begin a composting program. In addition, the school started recycling baby food pouches with Terracycle. Recycling, composting and sustainability are now focused in all classrooms, bathrooms, the staff lounge and the kitchen. All of these efforts have resulted in a measurable diversion of waste and offer a model of proper recycling practices for young children.

Glean Central Wisconsin diverts farmer market leftovers to food pantries

Gleaned vegetables

Glean Central Wisconsin received the Recycling Excellence Award for Innovation. The organization connects volunteers and farmers at farmers’ markets to divert excess edible produce that would otherwise be disposed of to those in need. An hour before the end of the market, volunteers hand out large canvas bags to the farmers, who fill them with produce that didn’t sell that day and might go to waste. The volunteers then deliver the bags to food pantries and community kitchens. Started in 2014 in Stevens Point, the program expanded to include the Wisconsin Rapids Farmers’ Market. In 2016, nearly 10,000 pounds of food was diverted from landfills to low-income families in Portage and Wood counties.

Past winners