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Contact information
For information on solid waste management, contact:
Jack Connelly
Solid waste program coordinator
Waste & Materials Management
608-267-7574

Solid waste management

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:

  • landfills
  • storage facilities;
  • transfer facilities;
  • solid waste processing facilities;
  • incinerators;
  • 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. 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.

For more information on landfill licenses and permits, see the landfill siting process. For more about compost facility licenses, see composting rules and regulations.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Last revised: Friday June 20 2014