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Wisconsin recycling and solid waste studies and reports

Since Wisconsin's recycling law took effect in the mid-1990s, the DNR has used annual reports and surveys to monitor the progress and success of Wisconsin's recycling efforts. These reports and surveys come from local government "responsible unit" recycling programs, material recovery facilities and landfill operators as well as from residential households.

Additional surveys, study and reports help the DNR assess best management practices and efforts needed to continually improve Wisconsin's waste management systems.

2020-2021 Waste Characterization Study

The final report and infographic on the 2020-2021 Wisconsin Waste Characterization Study are now available.

Annual recycling and landfill reports

Annual reports from responsible units and material recovery facilities

Responsible units must submit annual reports to the DNR. These reports must include the amount of recyclable paper and containers collected from one to four family residences. Some Responsible Units may also report on additional recyclables (e.g., carpeting, used oil, etc.). Materials recovery facilities that accept recyclables from responsible units must also submit annual reports to the DNR.

The aggregate data in the following tables, charts and graphs reflect annual report information from the last several years. The materials recovery facility data contains both residential and commercial sources of recyclables.

Annual reports from landfill operators

Landfill operators must submit an annual report to the DNR that includes categories of waste received from Wisconsin and out-of-state sources. In the tables below, municipal solid waste is the waste generated by residences and commercial establishments. All other waste is considered non-municipal solid waste and is generated primarily by industries.

Waste characterization studies

Wisconsin waste characterization studies

The DNR periodically commissions studies to assess what is being landfilled across the state. This information is used by waste reduction and minimization programs at the state, regional and local levels.

The most recent study was conducted in 2020-2021 by SCS Engineers. Hand sorting was completed of 398 samples of solid waste at 15 different Wisconsin landfills. The samples were sorted into 85 waste components to determine the proportion each material represents in the overall mix within the state’s landfills.

The results of this study, compared with prior waste characterization studies and recycled tonnage reports from responsible units and materials recovery facilities, suggest Wisconsin residents and businesses maintain a strong commitment to recycling, with progress in reducing the landfilled tonnages of some materials. The study shows many opportunities still exist to divert materials from going to landfills and improve recycling rates for other materials.

The study reports and images related to the waste characterization study are available for download and sharing through the Solid Waste in Wisconsin Landfills portal.

Resources for assessing waste data

The EPA's Waste Reduction Model (WARM) assesses different waste management techniques based on emission reductions, energy savings and economic impacts.

The EPA's Policy and Program Impact Estimator uses WARM modeling to assess the impacts of different waste policy changes that can be made by a community.

ReRED's Insights Engine assesses the impacts of managing food waste in alternatives to landfilling, including water savings.

Recycling surveys and other reports

Household recycling survey results

The DNR conducts periodic commissions household surveys to assess awareness of and participation in Wisconsin's recycling program. Results for the most recent survey of 638 households across the state, conducted in 2016, confirmed continued strong support for both the state recycling laws and programs. More than 93 percent of households surveyed are committed to recycling at home, and 80 percent do not report barriers to recycling.

Alternate Landfill Liner Study

In 2021, the DNR commissioned a study to compile and evaluate other states landfill liner regulations and liner design considerations. The report will be a reference for DNR staff and others to use when assessing liner design proposals that are different from Wisconsin’s default requirements.

Paint management survey results

In 2015, the DNR conducted an online survey of household hazardous waste collection programs to learn more about how they manage latex and oil-based paint. The survey was sent to programs that receive Clean Sweep grants from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Report on newspaper recycling fee law

In 2014, the DNR commissioned a study of Wisconsin’s newspaper recycling fee law, s. 287.31, Wis. Stats. The 1989 law established minimum recycled content for Wisconsin newspaper publishers and imposed a fee for publishers not meeting the minimum content. The study was intended to evaluate the continued relevance of the law in light of newspaper and recycling industry trends in the 25 years since the law was passed. In April 2015, 2015 Act 7 took effect and repealed the newspaper recycling fee and associated requirements in s. 287.31, Wis. Stats.

Wisconsin plastics recycling study results

The DNR commissioned a study, authored jointly by Foth Infrastructure and Environment and by Moore Recycling Associates, to identify actions that can be taken to capture and recycle more of the valuable used plastics that currently end up in landfills. Recovering more of these materials has the potential to create jobs and boost economic development in Wisconsin. Despite a comprehensive statewide recycling program and a strong recycling ethic, hundreds of tons of plastics are still sent to Wisconsin landfills every day; Foth estimates the market value of these landfilled plastics at around $64 million in 2009.

The study lists several actions Wisconsin could take to increase plastics recovery rates substantially. These actions could be implemented individually or as a coordinated approach with priority given to recovery of the most valuable and commonly used plastic containers, such as consumer beverage bottles and containers for household cleaning products.

The American Chemistry Council commissioned a subsequent, focused study by Moore Recycling Associates, Inc., on recycling of rigid plastic materials in Wisconsin in an attempt to identify the composition and recycling potential of rigid plastic products and packaging being used in Wisconsin.

Studies by the UW-Extension Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center

The following studies were conducted by the UW-Extension Solid and Hazardous Waste Center and are posted here with permission.

Legislative Fiscal Bureau informational paper

Governor's Task Force on Waste Materials Recovery and Disposal

In 2006, the Governor's Task Force on Waste Materials Recovery and Disposal completed an 18-month process with a final report and recommendations for changes to Wisconsin's waste management system.