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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

West Allis Rolls Out Updated Recycling Program

Susan Bence
Milwaukee Public Radio
Soon West Allis blue recycling bag system will be a thing of the past.

The City of West Allis has been providing curbside recycling pickup for over two decades, but this week residents will find gleaming blue carts at their doorsteps. Up until, the city has used 30-gallon plastic bags.

West Allis is one of a handful of municipalities using the"bag" method.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
West Allis residents Bruno Glapinski and daughter Melissa Oberdorf share their perspectives on recycling.

Melissa Oberdorf remembers the days before West Allis trucks started hauling away recyclables. Her family members were early adopters.

“I remember my dad taking us to the city dump on the weekends and it was our job to help separate all of the different glass – so you had your green glass, your clear glass. They all had to be separated,” Oberdorf says.

Her dad Bruno Glapinski loved crushing his own cans and pocketing a few dollars in return. Glapinski thinks back to 1994, when West Allis rolled out its curbside pick-up.

“It started with the West Allis bags we have. You couldn’t use a clear bag or anything, if you did, they didn’t take it. If you had a bottle cap on a bottle in there, they didn’t take it.” Glapinski adds, “They were really strict.”

And no paper or cardboard in the bags. Residents have had to bundle it separately.

But now, all of that is changing. This week, West Allis will deliver blue carts to residents’ doorsteps.

Although residents will be able to drop all of their recyclables into the new carts – from cans to cardboard, Glapinksi still has a wait and see attitude.

“Number one, you have to find a space to put a bin. There’s pros and cons. Like I told you, in the past if we were on vacation and it was that Tuesday they were coming around to recycle every two weeks, we could just throw the bags in the trunk and take them down there,” Glapinski says.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
West Allis streets and sanitation superintendent Tim Last believes once they get the hang of it, residents are going to love the new system.

West Allis sanitation and streets superintendent Tim Last understands how Glapinski feels.

“They’re used to the blue bag. It seems like one of the biggest issue is the size – what are we going to do with a 96-gallon cart, we don’t have the room,” Last says.

Last says a bins footprint is no bigger than recycling tubs other communities use. And, he adds, the new covered carts will keep rodents out.

“Because people do not clean out their containers like the way the city ordinance calls for, then that will attract the rodents will rip open the bags and make a mess,” Last says.

Another change coming with the carts – West Allis is adding more items residents can recycle. The new “acceptable” list, includes aerosol cans and.

“Before we only took four of the plastics, now we take all seven of the plastics one through seven,” Last says.

Last year West Allis recycled about 3,100 tons. Last thinks with the new bins could bring in another 30 percent.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Check out the lid of the recycling cart. "The accepted recycling materials are inlaid in the resin, so it will be nondestructible. It won't peel or fade," Tim Last, West Allis Streets and Sanitation Superintendent says.

And, Last says, his city stands to become greener financially, “Our tipping fees will be less because there’s less tonnage going into the landfills,” plus, “West Allis will be receiving monies back – aluminum, glass whatever that market is, that fluctuates.”

Melissa Oberdorf will pass on the new recycling nuances to her family in West Allis.

Remember, her dad taught her to sort glass and recycle as a child. Today, Oberdorf has two children of her own.

“They’re 3 and 5 and they know what goes in the recycling bin and what doesn’t. You have to start them out young. And they know not to litter.” Oberdorf adds, “We have to respect our earth. That’s what they’re taught."

And now, it will be one blue recycling cart, at a time.

Credit Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Wisconsin enacted its recycling law in 1990. It meant communities had to come up with ways to keep things like milk jugs and soup cans out of landfills. There's still plenty of potential. A 2009 DNR study reported that 40 percent of materials delivered to landfills are recyclable.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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