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Wisconsin Recycling Excellence Awards

The nomination deadline for the 2018 Recycling Excellence Awards has been extended to Sept. 15.

The DNR recognizes outstanding recycling and waste minimization efforts through its annual Recycling Excellence Award program. This page contains information about the award nomination process and highlights the achievements of recent winners.

The Recycling Excellence Awards celebrate the outstanding recycling efforts, innovation and performance of communities and organizations, both small and large, throughout Wisconsin. Any recycling responsible unit (RU) or organization that recognizes excellence in its own program or any other program is encouraged to self-nominate or submit a nomination on another program's behalf. Nominations are accepted annually during the summer and recipients are announced in October.

Awards are presented to RUs and organizations for their successes in four categories including overall program, projects and initiatives, special events and innovation. More information on each of these categories and a list of the 2017 award winners is provided in the table below.

2018 nomination process

Nomination forms are available online and due Sept. 15. Submissions should include a written description of the outstanding recycling achievements that deserve recognition, including dates, locations and recycling data if applicable and available. Applicants are also encouraged to submit supporting materials, including education and outreach examples, photos, tables, charts and website links.

2017 award categories and winners

DNR 2017 awards news release

Category Recognition Winners
Projects and Initiatives Recognizes a finite project that demonstrated cost effectiveness or potential cost savings while increasing the overall recycling rate.
Overall Program Recognizes outreach efforts that are robust and constantly improving, while demonstrating a commitment to improve the overall recycling program.

Honorable Mention

Innovation Recognizes a program that demonstrates unique and innovative approaches to recycling.

2017 highlights of award winners

The Recycling Excellence Awards recognize innovative and exciting recycling and waste reduction efforts by local and tribal governments, businesses and other groups in Wisconsin. Below are highlights from the 2017 Recycling Award winners.

McKinley Elementary reduces waste by composting and recycling plastic bags

McKinley Elementary recycling program

McKinley Elementary School in Milwaukee County received the Projects and Initiatives Award for starting a new cafeteria composting program and expanding its recycling program. Two teachers developed a working partnership including school staff, parents and Compost Crusaders. The school also began to collect and recycle plastic grocery bags. Diverting organics from the waste stream and improving recycling resulted in a reduction in trash pick-ups and the need for a larger recycling dumpster. The Wauwatosa School District offered open enrollment to the rest of the district’s schools to be a part of the compost program. Students from McKinley give presentations about the composting process to encourage the other schools to join in.

“The 90s called. They want their bin back.” Outagamie County transitions rural communities to carts

Outagamie County recycling bin and cart

The Outagamie County Recycling and Solid Waste Program received the Projects and Initiatives Award for transitioning 13 rural municipalities to larger, automated carts. This resulted in increased tonnage collected and improved set-out rates. The county received a grant from the Recycling Partnership toward the purchase of new 95-gallon wheeled carts and to provide outreach and education about the new project. The county’s outreach included postcards, billboards, banners and a TV spot with a catchy phrase, “The 90s called. They want their bin back.” The county also held a special media event to kick off the new carts. Recycling increased in those communities by 14 percent in less than a year.

Rick Schultz and Watertown pilot new recycling projects

Rick Schultz with award

Rick Schultz and the city of Watertown received the Projects and Initiatives Award for taking a risk on a new beneficial reuse for glass, accepting material for beneficial use in his gravel pit. Schultz has a history of being willing to try new things to divert materials from landfills, often being first to pilot a project. Examples include a latex paint collection program, where the paint was recycled (as opposed to dried and disposed of), which ended in December 2017, and a retired mattress recycling program. Even when an initiative doesn’t work out, Schultz does not hesitate to try again. This is a risk communities take when they are willing to take a chance on a new idea/provider.

Jerry Martell and Modern Disposal Systems provide years of recycling solutions

Jerry Martell with award

Jerry Martell and Modern DisposalSystems received the Overall Program Award. Through commitment, creativity and sustained effort over many years, Martell and his business, Modern Disposal Systems, have encouraged recycling throughout the region. Jerry partnered with Buffalo County Solid Waste to develop recycling collection systems for each township. When Monroe County’s recycling transfer station was operating at capacity, Modern Disposal itself invested in two more transfer stations to serve the county, saving the county the expense of expanding or building a new facility. Besides working to improve recycling programs in western Wisconsin, Martell has supported the students in the Sparta High School Earth Club to expand the types of materials they recycle. Martell is known for strategizing about recycling efficiency even if it means less income for Modern Disposal.

Milwaukee House of Correction inmates volunteer in recycling program with dual benefit

House of Corrections staff with award

The Milwaukee County House of Correction received the Overall Program Award for institutional diversion of trash with its recycling program. Inmates who choose to participate in the recycling program earn an hour of “good time” for every hour worked. This has the dual benefit of reducing time from their sentence (inmates work an average of 24 hours/week to remove one day from their sentence) and educating them on the recycling process. Recycling efforts have resulted in a 33 percent reduction in waste at the facility.

Preschool of the Arts expands recycling program and starts composting

Compost carts outside of Preschool for the Arts

The Preschool for the Arts received an honorable mention in the Overall Program Award category. A newly formed sustainability committee, under the direction of Kristin Slava, worked to increase recycling at the school, including batteries and electronics. The school also partnered with the city of Madison to begin a composting program. In addition, the school started recycling baby food pouches with Terracycle. Recycling, composting and sustainability are now focuses in all classrooms, bathrooms, the staff lounge and the kitchen. All of these efforts have resulted in measurable diversion of waste and offer a model of proper recycling practices for young children.

Glean Central Wisconsin diverts farmer market leftovers to food pantries

Gleaned vegetables

Glean Central Wisconsin received the Recycling Excellence Award for Innovation. The organization connects volunteers and farmers at farmers’ markets to divert excess edible produce that would otherwise be disposed of to those in need. An hour before the end of the market, volunteers hand out large canvas bags to the farmers, who fill them with produce that didn’t sell that day and might go to waste. The volunteers then deliver the bags to food pantries and community kitchens. Started in 2014 in Stevens Point, the program expanded to include the Wisconsin Rapids Farmers’ Market. In 2016, nearly 10,000 pounds of food were diverted from landfills to low-income families in Portage and Wood counties.

Past winners


Last revised: Thursday August 30 2018