Skip to main content

Wisconsin Recycling Excellence Awards

The 2021 Recycling Excellence Awards nomination period is now open until 11:59 p.m., Sept. 17, 2021.

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.

New for 2021

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. In recognition of this important goal, food waste recovery or diversion programs are now eligible for Recycling Excellence Awards.

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 2020 award winners is provided in the table below.

Nominations should include a written description of the outstanding recycling achievements that deserve recognition, including dates, locations and 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.

2020 award categories and winners

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.
  • Central Wisconsin Recycling Collective
  • City of Sheboygan Department of Public Works
  • Iron River Recycle and Waste Transfer Center
  • Yunker Industries, Inc.
Overall Program Recognizes programs that are robust and constantly improving, demonstrating a commitment to advance the overall recycling/diversion program.
  • Calibre, Inc.
  • City of Baraboo Public Works
  • Fredman Bag Corporation
  • Outlook Group, LLC
  • Pierce Manufacturing
  • Vernon County Solid Waste and Recycling
Innovation Recognizes a program that demonstrates unique and innovative approaches to recycling.
  • Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc.
  • Green Bay Packaging
  • Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use
Special Events Recognizes effective recycling at special events, offering participants an enhanced opportunity to recycle or reuse materials.
  • Good News Project
  • Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers

2020 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 2020 Recycling Award winners.

Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc. makes using recycled plastics a priority

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Advanced Drainage System.jpg

Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc., has won the Innovation Award. The company has made sustainability and sustainable practices a priority. It has five recycling facilities that take in recycled plastic in various stages of reprocessing. Advanced Drainage Systems purchases bales, flakes and pellets of recycled HDPE from post-consumer and post-industrial sources. Over half of the plastic the company purchases is recycled. Advanced Drainage Systems and Infiltrator Water Technologies combine to create the second largest plastic recycler in North America. Annually, approximately 730 million pounds of carbon emissions are avoided using recycled Advanced Drainage Systems plastics.

Calibre, Inc.

Calibre, Inc., has won an Overall Program Award. It is a paint finish company, with four locations in Ozaukee County, that serves customers in the marine, powersport and transportation industry. The company works with Enviro-Safe Resource Recovery in Germantown to recycle or repurpose the hazardous waste it generates. In addition, it has a solvent recovery distillation unit at the paint application facilities to reclaim and reuse cleaning solvents used to clean paint guns and flush paint lines. Calibre also sends all empty, flattened steel paint cans to a steel recycler, and has recycled approximately 150,000 pounds of steel since 2013. In that same period, Calibre  has sent approximately 27,000 pounds of plastic shrink wrap material to be recycled.

Central Wisconsin Recycling Collective promotes "back to basics" recycling practices

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Central Wisconsin Recycling Collective.jpg

The Central Wisconsin Recycling Collective has won the Projects and Initiatives Award. Marathon County Solid Waste, Portage County Solid Waste, and Recycling Connections partnered to form the Central Wisconsin Recycling Collective, which has gotten back to the recycling basics with their clever “To Bin or Not To Bin” campaign/message. CWRC’s mission is to have consistency in the region when it comes to recycling education in hopes to reduce contamination coming into materials recovery facilities. Together, the three organizations have created a recycling guide, a Facebook, Instagram and YouTube following. CWRC attended the Local Food Fair, where representatives from the three organizations spent the entire day sharing information on how to recycle correctly and challenged event attendees with a game of “To Bin or Not To Bin.”

City of Baraboo Public Works improves recycling program and outreach to residents

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Baraboo.jpg

The city of Baraboo has won the Overall Program Award. In addition to organizational and efficiency efforts at the residential yard waste drop-off site and increased efforts to repurpose that material into usable compost, Baraboo has been focusing on improvements to its curbside recycling program. Outreach efforts to residents included new labels on carts specifying what can be recycled, what can’t and how to properly dispose of materials. The city also revised its recycling ordinance to allow the purchase of an additional recycling cart to fit overflowing materials. This provides residents a better opportunity for compliance and significantly reduces the risk of injury to collection staff and others. Additional community outreach enhancements include an improved biannual newsletter and flyers showing the “Do’s and Don’ts of Recycling.”

City of Sheboygan Department of Public Works upgrades its recycling program and expands its online presence

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_ Sheboygan.jpg

The city of Sheboygan has won the Projects and Initiatives Award. The city has been hard at work adopting a new automated cart-based garbage and recycling collection program. The city, along with Sun Graphics Media, worked closely with The Recycling Partnership to help develop a communication strategy. The city used a combination of printed materials, direct mailers, videos, social media advertising and blog posts. The city, with the help of Sun Graphics Media, launched a new website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram in December 2019. The social media pages are used to inform residents about the new program. Preliminary data has shown an increase of pounds per household. There was a 13% increase in recycling with 112 new tons. This represents an increase of four pounds per household.

Fredman Bag Corporation takes on waste in its operations

The Fredman Bag Corporation has won the Overall Program Award. The company is a manufacturer of custom flexible packaging products for consumer goods, as well as promotional and specialty applications. It works with customers to downsize material thickness and package dimensions, recapture and recycle unconsumed solvents, ship on recycled pallets, use motion detectors and setback thermostats to help conserve energy, and use regenerative thermal oxidizer to destroy VOCs. Fredman tracks waste carefully and monitors recycling using a daily scoreboard to keep up employee interest and engagement, and sent zero waste to landfill for 1,794 days as of July 30, 2020.

Good News Project provides access to e-cycling and pays the effort forward

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Good News Project.jpg

Good News Project has won the Special Events Award. It is a small nonprofit in Wausau that has been a long-standing registered collector with the E-Cycle Wisconsin program. In 2019, it was able to responsibly recycle 272,076 pounds of e-waste, using 908.5 hours of volunteer time. Over the past decade, Good News has recycled 2,287,663 pounds of electronics. Since 2016, the Good News Project has worked specifically to increase outreach locally and to communities that have difficulty accessing e-cycling. This is a much-needed service in northern Wisconsin, and people from many surrounding communities participate in this event. Proceeds from the events are shared with partnering nonprofits so that they can provide additional services in their communities with the funds raised.

Green Bay Packaging works to conserves resources in its manufacturing process

Green Bay Packaging has won the Innovation Award. It is a privately owned containerboard company and fully integrated pulp and paper mill that produces linerboard and corrugated medium using 100% post-consumer recycled fiber. Between 2005 and 2018, the mill achieved a 15% reduction in overall water use and an 18% reduction in water use per ton of paper production, while increasing production by 10%. Improving water reuse and recycling also reduced energy use and related greenhouse gas emissions and provided resource savings to the community.

Iron River Recycle and Waste Transfer Center improves recycling and waste services to Wisconsin residents

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Iron River.JPG

The Iron River Recycle and Waste Transfer Center has won the Projects and Initiatives Award. Iron County has been working to make an easier experience for customers and attendants by adding new signage and equipment. The new signage directs customers through the center, improving compliance with proper disposal of household garbage, cardboard, appliances, yard waste, construction waste and recyclable materials. The center also encourages reuse with a ‘shop’ of free, reusable items, striving to repurpose items rather than placing them immediately in a receptacle for disposal. Another unique practice is staging automobiles brought for disposal, allowing Iron River Volunteer Fire and Ambulance to train on emergency situations.

Outlook Group, LLC works with customers to reduce waste and diverts materials from the landfill

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Outlook Group LLC.jpg

Outlook Group, LLC has won the Overall Program Award. They are a manufacturer of flexible packaging, folding cartons, pressure sensitive labels and shrink sleeve labels in Neenah, Wisconsin. They divert more than 95% of manufacturing waste from going to landfills—either by recycling fiber and other materials, or by sending laminated films, pressure sensitive label material, matrix waste and release liner to their waste-to-energy partners. Outlook Group limits potential waste before materials enter the facility for processing, guiding customers to achieve sustainability goals related to packaging waste reduction and landfill diversion. They utilize sustainable packaging development, material selection and design for recycling consultation services and inventory management programs.

Pierce Manufacturing, Inc. looks to reduce waste in its operations and provides e-waste collection for employees

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Pierce.jpg

Pierce Manufacturing has won the Overall Program Award. The company builds fire trucks and equipment, has right-sized collection containers by waste stream and works with suppliers to reduce packaging and design returnable packaging. In addition, Pierce reuses product drums and shipping containers, uses separate bins for compostable paper hand towels, and tracks all materials that are diverted from landfills. The company holds annual drives to collect electronic waste and recycle these materials at the company’s expense, collecting over 40,000 pounds of electronics from employees. Since 2014, Pierce Manufacturing has sent just over 100,000 pairs of safety glasses to Contractivity, a Goodwill job-training program to clean and repackage the glasses. By reusing safety glasses, Pierce Manufacturing has substantially reduced the amount of safety glasses purchased.

Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers brings e-cycling to the communities they serve

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Scenic Bluff Community Health Centers.jpg

Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers has won the Special Events Award. Scenic Bluffs has made substantial investments to improve environmental health in the communities it serves. One of the most notable efforts is the annual Technolog-E Recycling Event, held at Scenic Bluffs in Cashton during the National Health Center Week celebration. This event is free and open to the public, which allows individuals to recycle unwanted electronic devices. Since 2016, more than 153,000 pounds of recyclable electronics have been collected from Cashton and surrounding communities and kept out of landfills. Through Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations in Onalaska, every portion of the recycled electronics collected is recycled or reused. This investment in safer recycling totals nearly $30,000 in recycling costs since 2016, with the additional investment of Scenic Bluffs’ staff dedicating more than 400 hours collecting and unloading materials brought by community members.

Vernon County Solid Waste and Recycling excels at providing residents access to recycling

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Vernon Co.jpg

Vernon County Solid Waste and Recycling has won the Overall Program Award. The county's recycling program continues to use a source-separated collection system, rather than “single stream,” where all recyclable materials are combined. Despite challenging commodity markets, Vernon County continues to provide recycling service to its participating municipalities at no cost, covering two-thirds of the county’s population. Free dumpsters are provided in spring and fall for municipal clean up events, collecting tires, appliances, e-waste, and mattresses. The county remains committed to offering mattress and battery recycling despite the challenges in collecting and processing these materials. Continuous operational improvements with site attendants and strong recycling messaging are cornerstones of the program.

Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use gets creative with recycling outreach to residents

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Waukesha.jpg

Waukesha County has won the Innovation Award. The county designed and developed an entire system to collect and report out on programmatic data, which culminated with the release of a new educational guide. Topics included recycling right, backyard composting, plastics recycling, reducing back-to-school waste, upcycling, leaf mulching and green gift giving for the holidays. The most impactful action in 2019 was the development of an app for recycling drivers to identify contaminated recycling carts. Once a cart is identified as containing a specified prohibited item(s), a postcard is mailed to the resident with a note about the mistake and a recycling guide. By using the app, the time management and safety concerns typically associated with traditional cart tagging are removed, while still providing the resident important, individualized feedback on how to improve their recycling.

Yunker Industries, Inc. provides plastic bag and film recycling to employees and divert over 1,000 pounds of plastic from landfillls

2020 Recycling Excellence Awards_Yunker Industries.jpg

Yunker Industries has won the Projects and Initiatives Award. Yunker is a graphics and décor manufacturer for the retail industry. In 2019, they began a partnership with Trex Plastic Recycling when they were looking for resources to assist in recycling efforts. Trex recycling bins were placed in their building for items such as plastic strapping, plastic bags, grocery bags and bubble wrap. Creating one centralized location for employees to bring their plastic from home created awareness with employees and their families on recycling. Once the goal is reached you are given a bench which is made from approximately 40,500 plastic bags. So far, over 1,000 pounds of plastic had been kept out of the landfill. Yunker donated their first bench to Tree House Child & Family Services in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and continues to operate the plastic collection program.

2019 highlights of award winners

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.

Past winners