Wisconsin – Waste Disposal Surcharges

Wisconsin established its “State solid waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, and resource recovery policy” in 1989 with Act 335, now codified in section 287.05 of the Wisconsin Statutes. This policy recognizes that waste reduction and diversion are in the best interest of the state to conserve resources, preserve the environment, and protect public health. The policy established a hierarchical preference of solid waste management options, as follows: 

(12) That in the management of solid waste, whenever possible and practical, the state encourages the following priorities:
(a) The reduction of the amount of solid waste generated.
(b) The reuse of solid waste.
(c) The recycling of solid waste.
(d) The composting of solid waste.
(e) The recovery of energy from solid waste.
(f) The land disposal of solid waste.
(g) The burning of solid waste without energy recovery.”

 

In addition, Wisconsin Statute section 287.07 established bans on disposal of numerous materials to landfills or other solid waste disposal facilities, including a yard waste disposal ban which first took effect in 1993. As of 2021, Wisconsin has a few surcharges on landfill disposal that fund the segregated environmental fund. The surcharges amount to about $13 in total, including a recycling fee, environmental repair fee, groundwater fee, and well compensation fee, as well as administration and siting board fees. 

 

Recycling Tipping Fee

In 1999, Wisconsin’s Act 9 (p. 707) established a recycling surcharge (later called the recycling tipping fee) on landfill disposal of municipal solid waste at $0.30 per ton, which has since risen to $7 per ton, as amended by the legislature. This fee is assessed and collected quarterly. See the table below for a breakdown of increases to the recycling fee since it went into effect in 2000. 

Tipping Fee Rate Changes – Municipal Solid Waste
Table from Wisconsin Management Bureau’s Informational Paper #64 
(January 2021)

Since its inception, the recycling fee’s revenue was deposited into a designated Recycling Fund until 2012, when the revenue stream and most of the supported recycling programs were transferred to the environmental management account. The $7-per-ton recycling fee surcharge is now part of a combination of surcharge fees that fund Wisconsin’s segregated environmental fund, which is made up of the environmental management account and the nonpoint account. While each landfill also charges their individually determined tipping fees, the state surcharges that fund the segregated environmental fund amount to about $13-per-ton, as shown in the table below. 

State Solid Waste Tipping Fees Per Ton
Table from Wisconsin Management Bureau’s Informational Paper #64 
(January 2021)

 

Environmental Management Account

The environmental management account is currently funded by $9.64 per ton in surcharge fees (out of a total $13-per-ton tipping fee that funds the segregated environmental fund). In 2019-2020, the recycling fee alone generated $40 million, making up over 70% of the total revenue into the environmental management account. And, approximately 70% of the environmental management account funds recycling by means of a recycling grants to responsible units program, a recycling consolidation grants program, and administration of environmental and recycling programs by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The rest is used for debt service payments and contaminated land cleanup programs.

 

Recycling Grants to Responsible Units

The recycling grants to responsible units program was established in 1989 by Wisconsin Act 335 to provide financial support to local governments in order to operate effective recycling programs and comply with state recycling mandates, which ban many materials from disposal or incineration (such as yard waste, appliances, paper and cardboard, glass, metal cans, and certain plastics). Eligible program costs under this grant funding include, but are not limited to, education and outreach, collection and transport of residential recyclables, employee salary and benefits, contractual services, utility services, as well as rents and leases.

A “responsible unit” is a municipality, county, or other unit of local government including recognized American Indian tribes. In order to be considered an “effective recycling program,” it must meet all of the criteria listed in Wisconsin statute 287.11, including public education, source-separation requirements, collection systems, adequate recycling facilities, a ban on landfill disposal or incineration of source-separated recyclables, reasonable waste diversion efforts, and adequate enforcement of recycling programs. Responsible units with approved effective recycling programs are eligible for the recycling grants, given that they submit a yearly application which includes their estimated net eligible recycling costs.

Casey Lamensky, Solid Waste Coordinator at Wisconsin’s DNR, notes that, as of 2021, the recycling grants do not cover composting of wasted food, but the funds do support yard trimmings management practices including composting.1 The recycling grants may only be used for recycling programs that manage the listed banned materials in Wisconsin statutes 287.07(3) and (4), which does not include food scraps. Thus, responsible units may NOT use grant funds to offset the costs of managing food waste.2 Wisconsin DNR does, however, recommend home composting as a solution for yard and food waste. Results from a 2016 Household Recycling Survey, including about 700 respondents, showed a majority of respondents practicing at-home management of yard trimmings (through composting or leaving leaves/grass clippings in their yards). In addition, results showed that 22% of respondents practice home composting as a way to manage food scraps. 

Grant awards are paid annually by DNR by June 1 of the calendar grant year. This program constitutes the largest use of the environmental management account, appropriating $19 million annually in both 2019-20 and 2020-21.

 

Recycling Consolidation Grants

Recycling consolidation grants are distributed to select responsible units as supplemental financial support for operating successful and efficient recycling programs, as defined in Wisconsin statute 287.11. This program was established in 2011 by Wisconsin Act 32 and is allocated $1 million annually. A similar program ran from 2003-2009 called the Recycling Efficiency Incentive Grants program, which also sought to reward responsible units with particularly efficient recycling programs.

While all responsible units operating effective recycling programs are eligible for the general recycling grants, the recycling consolidation grants are only available for responsible units with ‘consolidated’ recycling programs. This grant evaluates recycling efficiency based on the expectation that larger responsible units will operate a more efficient recycling collection, processing, and education programs than smaller units. Therefore, responsible units indicated as serving a population greater than 25,000 automatically qualify. Another way to meet this criterion is by formerly consolidating or cooperating between multiple smaller responsible units to create a larger recycling program. Thus, this grant serves to reward responsible units for their larger size, a merger, or a cooperative agreement. 

 

Implementation and Use

Funding from both recycling grants is deposited into municipal general funds, thus is not administered as a separate pool of money directed toward recycling efforts. Though, in order to qualify for recycling grants, the municipality must maintain a successful recycling program as defined by the State (statute 287.11) and provide evidence that the municipality spent the amount of grant funding received on eligible recycling expenditures for the year of the grant, otherwise the balance must be returned. Thus, it can be expected that the grant money is spent on the operation of recycling programs.  

While a direct link between the grants and recycling rates cannot be made, there are trends that point to better management of yard trimmings as well as a need for greater food scrap composting efforts. According to Wisconsin’s 2020-2021 statewide Waste Characterization Study (table 55), the mean percentage of yard trimmings in the waste stream decreased from 2.7% in 2009 to 0.9% in 2021, potentially pointing to improvements in yard trimmings management supported by these grants. On the other hand, the mean percentage of food scraps has increased from 11.4% in 2009 to 18.8% in 2021, demonstrating a greater need for food scrap diversion efforts such as composting. 

According to Wisconsin’s Waste Reduction and Diversion Coordinator, Jennifer Semrau, these recycling grants are becoming less effective over time. As expenses have increased, the grants are covering a lower percentage of expenses each year.3 As of 2020, Wisconsin’s recycling grants cover an average of 14% of responsible units’ annual recycling expenses, as reported by the responsible units. This 14% is a stark decrease from initial average coverage rates of around 50% during the first few years of the program. See the table below for a breakdown of percent of eligible costs covered by the recycling grants. 

Municipal and County Recycling Grants: Eligible Cost, Grant Award and Award as Percentage of Costs ($ in Millions)
Table from Wisconsin Management Bureau’s Informational Paper #66 
(January 2021)

More Information

 

Personal communication. Casey Lamensky. Solid Waste Coordinator, Wisconsin DNR. Email. September 23, 2021.
2 Personal communication. Jennifer Semrau. Waste Reduction and Diversion Coordinator, Wisconsin DNR. Email. October 18, 2021.
3 Personal communication. Jennifer Semrau. Waste Reduction and Diversion Coordinator, Wisconsin DNR. Email. October 1, 2021.

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Original post from November 3, 2021

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Sophia Jones

Sophia Jones is a Policy Fellow with ILSR’s Composting for Community initiative, where she researches, analyzes and supports the building of US policy that advances local composting. Her background in sustainable development and agriculture reflects her interest in solutions-based, community-led development initiatives.