Keep states from treating Wisconsin as Midwest’s landfill

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Mark Redsten
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Every day trucks heaped with trash cross the Wisconsin border to dump garbage, some of which pollutes our state’s land, air and water. After unloading the trash, they return to their home states, refill with more waste, and repeat the process.

With nearly one-quarter of the garbage filling our state’s landfills coming from out-of-state, one fact is clear—Wisconsin has become the garbage dump of the Midwest.

Why is this? The answer is simple. Wisconsin’s tipping fees—the fees charged to dump nonrecycled waste in landfills—remain significantly lower in our state’s border communities than the border towns of Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. This disparity in price provides neighboring states with a financial incentive to export garbage into our state.

With Wisconsin landfills filling up fast, the state will eventually need to begin constructing landfills to meet demand created by out-of-state trash haulers. Realizing we have a policy that encourages other states to treat Wisconsin as the garbage dump of the Midwest, state legislators added a budget provision that will increase Wisconsin’s tipping fees, reducing the incentive for other states to export their trash to Wisconsin.

At Clean Wisconsin, we understand that the increased garbage tipping fees will add a small additional cost to municipality budgets. However, the benefits of increasing the tipping fee far outweigh the costs.

With an increased tipping fee of $7.10 per ton of nonrecycled waste, and the average single-family home producing around one ton of garbage a year, the average family can expect to pay no more than pocket change every month to ensure that Wisconsin does not remain the Midwest’s garbage dump. This seems an extraordinarily small price to pay to protect or land, water and air for ourselves and for future generations.

Plus, the advantages of increasing tipping fees go well beyond reducing the unsustainable influx of out-of-state trash.

Because tipping fees apply only to nonrecycled waste, increased tipping fees provide an incentive for municipalities to streamline recycling programs.

Ultimately, as municipalities and residents recycle more, residents can expect to see the already low costs of increased tipping fees mitigated by more efficient waste programs. This will result in substantial environmental benefits for what amounts to no more than pocket change for Wisconsin residents.

Furthermore, increased tipping fees will help state legislators address the record $6.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes on Wisconsin workers by generating revenue from out-of-state waste haulers.

The proposed fees might add a small additional cost to city budgets, but they will do so while substantially reducing the unsustainable influx of out-of-state trash, streamlining city recycling programs, and helping state legislators fix the budget crisis without raising taxes on every Wisconsin worker.

When so much benefit comes from such a small cost, it’s clear that increased tipping fees deserve the support of Wisconsin residents. Without them, Wisconsin landfills will fill up quickly and more will soon be needed as the state will remain the garbage dump for states across the Upper Midwest.

Mark Redsten is executive director of Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy organization that aims to protect Wisconsin’s clean water and air and advocates for clean energy. Contact him by e-mail at mredsten@cleanwisconsin.org.

Last updated: 10:41 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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