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What to recycle in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, you cannot put many recyclable or compostable items in the trash. Wisconsin's recycling law bans the landfilling or incineration of these materials to conserve valuable resources and landfill space. These disposal bans apply everywhere in Wisconsin, including in homes, businesses, schools, institutions and at special events.

Many local recycling programs and drop-off centers accept additional materials for recycling, so check with your local program or recycling hauler for a complete list of what can be recycled.

Recyclable materials banned from disposal in Wisconsin

Download a flier [PDF] with the full list of materials banned from landfills and incinerator disposal.

Paper, cardboard and containers

  • Aluminum containers
  • Bi-metal containers (i.e. containers made from a combination of steel and aluminum)
  • Corrugated cardboard or other containerboard
  • Glass containers
  • Magazines and other materials printed on similar paper
  • Newspapers and other materials printed on newsprint
  • Office paper
  • Plastic containers #1 and #2 - milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, soda and water bottles, etc.
  • Steel containers (tin cans)

Additional materials

 

Wisconsin's recycling law also bans the following materials from disposal, but the DNR allows them to be landfilled or incinerated because there are not yet adequate recycling markets.

  • Foam polystyrene packaging (for serving food or beverages), loose particles intended for packing (e.g. packing peanuts), or rigid foam shaped to hold and cushion a packaged item.
  • Plastic containers #3 through #7. Many communities now accept some of these types of plastics, so check with your local recycling program or recycling hauler to find out if you can include them in your recycling.

What NOT to put in your recycling bin or cart

The following items cause significant problems at recycling facilities and should not be placed curbside In a bin or cart. Many of these items can be recycled at drop-off locations.

Item How to safely recycle/dispose
Loose plastic bags, film or wrap Reducing, reusing and recycling plastic bags and wrap
Batteries Proper handling of used batteries
Cords, hoses, light strings, ropes and wires
  • For cords and light strings, check with local drop-off sites or electronics collection sites to see whether they accept these items.
  • Wires can be dropped off at scrap metal collectors.
  • Place hoses and ropes in the trash.
Needles/sharps (this includes sharps placed in a plastic container) Managing household medical sharps
Propane cylinders For larger models, check with local distributors to swap your tank. Smaller ‘disposal’ models might be accepted at local scrap metal collections when empty.
Textiles Check with nonprofit organizations like Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul; many will accept textiles for recycling as well as reuse

Resources for recycling other materials

The Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory [exit DNR] provides information about outlets for recycling various materials in Wisconsin. Users can search by material/item type, view information about recyclers and suggest additional recyclers to include in the listing.

The following resources are for specific material types.

Breaking down plastics recycling

Many types of plastic containers can be recycled in curbside recycling bins/carts or at drop-off locations. With the wide variety of plastic products we use today, however, it can be confusing to figure out what's recyclable. Some product packaging has clear recycling instructions, but not all. National Public Radio has produced an interactive guide to help you figure you what to recycle and what is a problem for the materials recovery facility (MRF) that processes your recyclables.

Exceptions for local recycling responsible units

The bans on paper, cardboard and containers do not apply to small amounts of the banned material mixed in with garbage being collected, treated and disposed of by a responsible unit (RU) with an effective recycling program. Even a good recycling program will not capture 100 percent of all potential recyclables, and some materials are unable to be recycled because of contamination. Examples include plastic jugs used for waste oil collection or newspapers used for cleaning. There are also exceptions for emergencies, unintentionally contaminated materials, the approved beneficial reuse of a material within a landfill, and certain plastics if recycling is not feasible.

RUs in two grandfathered waste-to-energy incinerator areas (La Crosse and Barron counties) are allowed to send recyclable paper (including newspaper, magazines and cardboard) and plastics to waste-to-energy incinerators, although local ordinances in those areas may require paper and plastic items to be recycled.