Solid waste management in Wisconsin
Solid waste is what most of us think of as "trash" or "garbage" we produce at home, work and play. Despite its name, "solid" waste can be solid, liquid or contained gas. Broadly defined, solid waste is any material no longer used for its originally intended purpose, that will be discarded, treated to reclaim its original properties or processed to be used for an alternative purpose.
The DNR strives to ensure proper management of solid waste and works with local governments, private industry, other organizations and individual citizens to reduce waste and increase reuse and recycling.
Solid waste licenses and permits
Several types of facilities or activities related to collecting, storing, transporting, treating and disposing of solid waste require permits or licenses from the DNR. For more information on licenses for solid waste collection and transportation, see waste facility and transporter licenses. The types of facilities listed below may also need DNR licenses:
- storage facilities;
- transfer facilities;
- solid waste processing facilities;
- woodburning facilities;
- yard and food residuals composting facilities; and
- municipal solid waste combustors.
For someone wishing to start up one of these facilities, the first step is to contact the DNR solid waste staff. In most cases, the DNR will perform an initial site inspection to determine whether the proposed location will cause any environmental impacts. In most cases, whoever is proposing the facility will need to describe to the DNR how it will be operated.
- Ch. NR 502 Non-Landfill Solid Waste Facility Initial Site Inspection Application (Form 4400-209)
- DNR solid waste staff contacts
Streamlined plan of operation applications
The DNR has simplified the process for some facilities, such as storage, transfer and woodburning facilities, by providing a plan of operation application form. If the DNR approves the plan of operation, we will send you a license application form.
- Solid Waste Storage Facility Plan of Operation Application (Form 4400-287)
- Solid Waste Transfer Facility Plan of Operation Application (Form 4400-284)
- Solid Waste Woodburning Facility Plan of Operation Application (Form 4400-285)
Obtaining exemptions for specific processes and materials
There are some exemptions from the DNR's requirements, depending on factors such as the size of the facility and how the end product will be used. The DNR has developed application forms to help streamline the approval of these uses, including the reuse of recycled shingles, lead-painted concrete and street sweepings. Before completing one of these forms, please contact the DNR environmental program associate for the county where the facility will be located to help you determine whether your facility falls under one of the exemptions.
- Exempting Low-Hazard Wastes from Solid Waste Regulations (WA-1645)
- Guidance for Asphalt Shingle Sorters and Grinders (WA-1880)
- Low Hazard Waste Exemption Application for Reuse of Concrete Coated with Lead-Bearing Paint (Form 4400-274)
- Low Hazard Waste Exemption Application for Reuse of Street Sweepings Application (Form 4400-289)
For more information and lists of currently licensed facilities, see waste facility and transporter licenses.
Solid waste topics
For more information on properly managing solid waste, please see the following pages and topics.
- Recycling and composting overview
- What to recycle
- Health care waste
- Beneficial use of industrial byproducts
- Managing accumulated sediment from storm water ponds (NR 528)
- Managing construction and demolition waste
- Waste tires in Wisconsin
- Solid Waste Interested Parties meetings
History of solid waste management in Wisconsin
Wisconsin's solid waste management program has been in place for more than 40 years. In the first two decades of the program, efforts were primarily directed toward licensing existing solid waste facilities, closing poorly located or operated facilities and ensuring that new solid waste facilities were properly located, designed, constructed, operated, closed and maintained. During this period, the vast majority of municipal and industrial solid waste generated went to landfills.
In the 1990s, things began to change. Wisconsin's recycling law passed in 1990, with most requirements taking effect in 1995. In 1997, ch. NR 538, Wis. Adm. Code, made it easier to beneficially use industrial byproducts. These two milestones resulted in significant and still-increasing quantities of waste being diverted from landfills.