Recycle, reduce, reuse, and close the loop. You can close the loop.

If a crudely-drawn T-rex taught me one thing growing up, it’s that we should avoid throwing out that which can be recycled. But until recently, I hadn’t the faintest idea what actually became of all the bottles, paper, and cans I tossed into that big blue bin each week. Enter Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful and their free tours of the Materials Recovery Facility (“murf”). Let’s dive in.

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KGMB is doing good work teaching children and adults alike about the impressive operation going on in the Menomonee Valley turning our city’s waste into cash money and new products.

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The tour’s about an hour, and didn’t smell near as bad as I expected. Turns out helping the environment and your city at the same time leaves a great scent in your nose. Slightly like an aged cola.

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You’ll have to get on one of these visits to really appreciate the details of the operation, but suffice it to say that this one building in Milwaukee is turning millions of pounds of our trash into literally millions of dollars for the city, plus keeping that refuse out of landfills.

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Most important takeaways for the average Milwaukeean / dancing dinosaur wanting to know what they can and can’t do when it comes to recycling:

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Sunday Cycle reporter, Rob, seconds before hearing that you can’t recycle anything in a plastic bag and realizing that literally everything he’s ever “recycled” was then thrown into the trash.

  1. Plastic bags cannot be recycled. Ever. If you put recycling in a plastic bag, it will all be thrown in the trash immediately.
  1. Look for the arrow triangle symbol on plastics and such. Milwaukee accepts 1, 2, 4, and 5 only. Check out the graphic above to get a better idea of what you can toss in the blue bins.

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  1. You do NOT have to rinse out any containers before recycling them. This blew my mind. It’s really just a courtesy for the workers so they don’t get so sticky and it doesn’t attract animals.
  2. Likewise, you can leave caps ON containers when you recycle them. What lying dinosaur once implied I couldn’t? In fact, it’s better for the machines with them on.
  3. Shredded paper is a huge hassle for the machines that sort the materials. If possible, burn your shreds.
  4. Never throw in batteries, propane tanks, medical waste, etc.

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Interesting tidbits from my journeys:

  • Large plastics are turned back into recycling bins. They literally recycle recycling bins into recycling bins.
  • There were old bank checks everywhere. Recycled cash.
  • Budweiser buys most of our city’s beer cans and fills them with a yellowy water-like trash, which seems counter-productive to the recycling process.

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You too can help close the loop with improving recycling habits.