by Grrl Jeanius •
Hey here’s some really good news — the City of Milwaukee processed 24,000 tons of our recyclables last year. What’s even better is knowing that the City has the ability to process 24,000 tons more of our recyclables each year! At the beginning of 2015, Washington Heights Neighborhood Association Green Committee began the process of educating ourselves and exploring the ways that we could reduce, reuse and recycle. Here’s a little bit of what we learned…
Our campaign began in 2014 with a grass roots effort. We won the support of four neighborhood organizations and distributed 3000 green reusable shopping bags throughout our neighborhood, followed by a screening of award-winning Bag It! documentary at the Times Cinema. The film explores the environmental consequences of our use of plastics. Turns out, single-use plastics that make our lives more convenient, like shopping bags, water bottles, coffee containers, etc are not biodegradable and can end up overflowing landfills, clogging rivers, and polluting our oceans and lakes. This year, we shared the message and love with the entire community with screenings of the film at Discovery World’s “Love Your Great Lakes Day” on Valentine’s Day and by handing out recycling information just outside the Aquatarium Digital Theater.
So where does all the plastic go? Since plastic does not biodegrade, much of it ends up in our oceans – about 250,000 tons, in fact. One formation in the Pacific Ocean created by currents (called a gyre) about twice the size of Texas is estimated to contain 40 times more plastic particles than organic matter and is causing problems for fish using it for food. Hailed as the “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” over time the vortex has collected this vast amount of floating plastic waste. The impact on marine life and the overall health of our oceans is well documented in the movie Plastic Paradise, another award-winning film, about the Garbage Patch and its impact on the environment. The Green Committee celebrated Earth Week by hosting a free screening at the Times Cinema for the neighborhood and continues lending events with community, educational and religious groups throughout the year. The screening followed an annual neighborhood clean-up hosted by the Housing Appearance Committee.
Bag It! documented the need to reuse. Plastic Paradise showed us we need to reduce. Next, we needed to see what we could do locally to recycle. We contacted Becky Curtis, DPW Recycling Assistant to come speak to the committee about Milwaukee’s curbside recycling program. “Recycling conserves natural resources and landfill space, supports jobs, and saves the City money,” she was quick to point out.
She went on “By the year 2020, it is a goal of the Mayor and Common Council to divert 40% of the City’s garbage from landfills. The average Washington Heights neighborhood household recycles about 330 pounds of material per year in their blue carts.” We found out that’s about average with other city neighborhoods as a whole and we all could be recycling more. In order to understand how the City of Milwaukee recycles, Becky recommended that the Green Committee set its sights on taking a tour of the newly retro-fitted, state-of-the-art Recycling Materials Facility (MFR) in the Menomonee Valley to see a large scale recycling process for ourselves.
The Green Committee hosted 36 people on an after operational hours weeknight tour of the facility making the experience extra fascinating and eerie. As we walked through the doors, the enormous scale of the operation and building dwarfed our group and the smell woke us up. The only sounds at that hour came from seagulls who made their home inside the facility. Filled with the materials from not only Milwaukee but more than 20 communities in Waukesha County, we learned that the facility could easily handle running an entire second shift there was volume/demand – an increase in recycling adds more green jobs to the economy! Kate Carney from Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful lead us on the tour that covered how plastics, metals, glass, and paper are sorted along an intricate labyrinth of conveyor belts, through a series of varied sized rollers, magnets, tuffs of air and hand sorting stations. Once sorted materials are bundled and packaged in large bales where they are staged in commodity type and later shipped out to a buyer. The aluminum bales alone weigh about 750 lbs and contain over 45,000 cans!
The experience left an impression about how our collective behavior can have a real positive impact. ”We are avid recyclers; this tour just added to our determination,” said Mary McGrath, WHNA Member, “The tour was very fun and inspirational.”
In July, members of the committee were given the opportunity to join interns and staff from the City Department of Public Works Recycle for Good’s for a day of outreach. Our members knocked on doors, talked with residents about the curbside recycling and what materials are accepted. “Going door to door with information on the city was fun and rewarding. People were really appreciative to find out just what could now be recycled and seemed eager to recycle as much as they could,” said Joan Janus, WHNA Green Committee.
Indeed, folks are ready and willing to do their part. Most households have separate recycling bins in their kitchens or pantries for plastics numbered 1, 2, 4, 5, aluminum containers, glass bottles and jars, cardboard, paper, and metal. Milwaukee curbside recycling program now has the capacity to accept pots and pans, beverage cartons, and bulky #2 plastics like five-gallon buckets. While plastic grocery/retail bags are a big no-no in the blue bin, they are recycled at your local grocery store along with drycleaner and newspaper bags, bread bags, produce bags, air pillows (packaging), case wrap, and napkin, paper towel, bathroom tissue, and diaper wrap! If your grocery store does not have a collection bin, you can find a recycling site at www. plasticfilmrecycling.org.
Finally, avid recyclers will want to pay attention and keep the following numbers handy – residents can get an additional blue cart from City Department of Public Works free of charge!
For additional carts or for other questions check out the inserts included in this Highlighter
or just call (414) 286-3500 anytime or (414) 286-CITY (2489) M – F 8:00am – 4:45pm or www.milwaukeerecycles.com.
For more info on how to borrow Bag IT! or Plastic Paradise films,
Contact Richard Gaeta firstname.lastname@example.org.