Walker rethinks cutting recycling from budget

Nate Schulz, sophomore in the College of Engineering, hopes Scott Walker’s reconsideration to cut funding of state recycling programs will still allow students at Marquette to recycle. Photo by Emily Waller/emily.waller@marquette.edu

After Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-’13 state budget proposal caused much dispute with little compromise, one dissatisfied group finally had its voices heard: the environmental advocates.

On Saturday, Walker decided to maintain mandatory state recycling programs within the budget. Initially, he aimed to cut recycling funding and put the money toward economic development, environmental cleanups and general efforts to balance the state’s $137 million budget deficit.

Since it was passed in 1990, the Wisconsin Recycling Law requires residents and businesses to recycle certain banned materials, such as lead acid batteries, tires and waste oils. It also ensures access to a locally run recycling program.

Rick Meyers, chairman for the Wisconsin Council on Recycling within the Department of Natural Resources, said Walker’s decision was due to complaints regarding the $32 million cut in funding per year. He said Walker’s decision was 100 percent from public pressure, and even members of his own Republican Party did not agree with the proposal.

“The governor knows he went too far,” Meyers said. “His main objective is to balance the budget and not have to raise taxes … as long as the legislation amends it in some way, that’s all he cares about.”

With the help of other organizations, such as the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Counties Solid Waste Management Association, the DNR sent a proposal to the governor with ideas on managing and funding recycling in the future.

The letter emphasized maintaining funding at its current level, and ensuring it was not used for other budget purposes.

Ann Coakley, director of waste and materials management at the DNR, offered numerous options the government could take to avoid cutting the recycling funding. She said communities could merge garbage and recycling collection services, share staff or mount joint marketing campaigns.

“We believe that size matters in recycling, and larger entities are much more efficient,” she said.

Coakley also noted that each Wisconsin resident generates an average 1,980 pounds of waste each year, with 34 percent of that being recycled or turned into compost.

Environmental groups were not the only ones against Walker’s proposal, however. Some Republican Party members disagreed as well.

Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, said in a statement that he expressed concerns regarding the cuts to the Walker administration before the budget was fully compiled, but they did not take his words into account.

Vos did say, however, that although the budget will not eliminate state recycling, it cannot continue to be funded at the same level.

Meyers echoed this with his own concerns for the future. He said he hopes the funding will end up in the right place, but the process will take a lot of planning and time.

He also said there are numerous models to be looked at, and the idea of merging garbage services is only one solution of many to be considered.

“It’s not like the governor has something against recycling,” he said. “The tough part is attempting to create a two-year budget that will make everyone happy, and let’s face it, that is very difficult to do.”