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More in Waukesha County are reducing and reusing

Jan. 28, 2013

Waukesha County recycled 20,407 tons in 2012 - enough to fill a football stadium. It's a lot, yes, but why are the numbers lower than in 2011?

The answer could be technology: More people are increasingly going digital, generating less paper waste. A change in the type of packaging available could also be responsible.

Less waste

"The packaging has changed. Now when you see plastic bottles, most say they're made using 25 percent reduced plastic," explained Rebecca Mattano, solid waste supervisor for Waukesha County Department of Parks & Land Use.

Mattano also noted that many people have shifted to digital in work and at home, creating less paper waste. From eBooks to printing fewer emails, it looks like Waukesha County is getting closer to being green at home and at work.

"Paper was always the largest and heaviest material that we got in … There is definitely a significant change in paper materials," Mattano said.

Residents might also be buying durable, reusable products instead of single-use disposables, reusing items or cutting back on purchases in a shaky economy.

"It's trendy to have a reusable grocery bag or buy upcycled furniture. It's actually kind of cool," Mattano said.

Delafield artist and upcycler Jen Hellmann is working hard to foster this particular aspect of green culture. She uses things found around the house, which might otherwise end up in landfills, and transforms them into art. With the help of the community she's made walls from donated paper and flowers from plastic bottles.

About the report

There are no publicly owned landfills in Waukesha County, and the only contracts the county is responsible for are in county buildings, parks or in the nine municipal recycling centers. Area contracts can be decided by municipalities or privately, by the property owner. Typically, the line ends at the Waukesha Recycling Facility. "It's one of those programs that everybody agrees with," said Village of Merton Clerk Tom Nelson.

The Village of Merton showed the highest positive percent change, an 8.3-percent increase, from 2011 to 2012. Nelson said the village often has Boy Scouts who go into the community to educate their neighbors, and residents are always asking for extra recycling bins.

"I don't know if it's anything specific the Village Board is doing, but it's our citizens … We're always looking for new ways to recycle," Nelson said.


Of course, some communities are outliers in the report. For example, it appears that the towns of Merton and Oconomowoc recycled four to five times less than their Lake Country counterparts.

That's an unfair assumption, though.

"Their contracts, the way it's reported, is a little different to us. It's single stream and we're a dual stream … We can't even process all the materials the hauler is bringing in," Mattano said.

There are no municipal contracts in three county communities, such as the Town of Merton. This means residents can either hire haulers to take their recycled materials or they can take care of it on their own at a community dropoff site. Many of those individually hired haulers are single-streamed, who sort their pieces and report on their volume independently from Waukesha County.

This means all recyclables are mixed together in a collection truck instead of being sorted - newspapers, plastics, glasses, aluminums are all commingled. They also accept types of plastic that typically aren't collected, such as yogurt or margarine containers. These are sorted at a processing center, eventually bundled and sold to manufacturers who complete the recycling process. There's an assumed increase in volume for single-stream (because they accept and collect more plastics), so the numbers are adjusted on the reports.

This adjustment is one more factor behind the community list's year-to-year changes and, overall, Waukesha County is doing well.

To learn more, visit's recycling page. In the meantime, see how well your schools, community organization and neighborhood can do in the "Reduce Your Waste Stream Challenge" from Feb. 11-March 11. Sign up at

"I think that we're really lucky in Waukesha County … the residents understand the environmental and economic value. They're really very energetic and very passionate about recycling," Mattano said.

By the numbers

Many Lake Country communities saw a dip in the percentage of tons recycled between 2011 and 2012 based on numbers from Waukesha County Recycling and Solid Waste. However, while it appears communities are recycling less, several factors contribute to the lower percentage including less product packaging and limits on the types of things the county can recycle.

City of Delafield: -13.1%

City of Oconomowoc: -1.7%

City of Pewaukee: -10.4%

Town of Delafield: -9.2%

Town of Merton: -16.2%

Town of Oconomowoc: -22%

Village of Chenequa: -16.9%

Village of Hartland: -10.4%

Village of Lac La Belle: -14.3%

Village of Merton: 8.3%

Village of Nashotah: -2.8%

Village of Oconomowoc Lake: -13.2%

Village of Pewaukee: 2.5%

Village of Summit: -10.5%

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Weekend Happenings

Featured this week:  

Breakfast with the Reindeer: 9 a.m. Dec. 5, Fish Hatchery Building, 417 Main St., Delafield. Meet Santa’s reindeer and enjoy doughnut holes, milk and hot cocoa. Free.

Live Nativity: 5 p.m., 5:45 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5, St. Mathew’s Lutheran Church, 818 W. Wisconsin Ave., Oconomowoc. Pet the camel, ox, donkey, sheep and goats. Hot chocolate and refreshments served indoors. Free.

Sussex Tree Lighting: 6 p.m. Dec. 4, Sussex Village Hall, N64 W23760 Main St., Sussex. Celebration includes live musical performances by local school children, music by Steve Haasch, countdown and tree lighting and visit from Santa. Hot chocolate and cookies will be served. Bring a nonperishable food item for the Sussex Food Pantry. Free.


Village of Monches Artisan Open House & Holiday Craft Fair: 9 a.m. Dec. 5, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Church, W302 N8593 O’Neill Road, Monches. Also includes food, homemade baked goods, raffles, chili, pies and more. Concert in church at 1 p.m. by the Kettle Moraine Symphony.

All weekend happenings