Wisconsin passes tough recycling law

Published April 28, 1990|Updated Oct. 17, 2005

By 1995, all bottles, newspapers and other recyclable waste will be banned from Wisconsin dumps. Every community in the state will be required to draw up a mandatory recycling plan by that year. And big businesses are to be taxed $15-million a year to help pay for stemming the tide of trash.

Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said the legislation he signed Friday created the nation's strictest recycling law.

"This is the most progressive, far-reaching and potentially effective recycling law in the United States," Thompson said.

"Overall, it's a very tough bill and it's making a lot of people nervous," said Douglas Johnson, a lobbyist for an industry group called the Wisconsin Consumer Packaging Council.

Nothing will change immediately because of the bill, which will work largely by banning recyclable products from the state's landfills.

Among the banned products are aluminum, glass and plastic containers, newspapers, cardboard and office paper, steel containers and old tires.

Wisconsin dumps will also have to stop taking refuse from out-of-state _ except from communities with the same strict recycling rules. Private Wisconsin dumps now accept large amounts of refuse from other states.

The state will put up $18.5-million a year to finance the effort.

Sponsors of the measure and some environmentalists say the law is one of the most far-reaching because of its one-two punch of mandatory statewide recycling and a tax on business.

"As far as I know, Wisconsin is the first state to use a broad-based business tax to pay for recycling," said Jeanne Wirka, policy analyst for the Washington-based Environmental Action Foundation.

The Wisconsin bill is similar to a measure pending in the Vermont legislature, and is likely to serve as a model for other states, she said.

Florida enacted legislation in 1988 that requires local governments to enact recycling programs to reduce the state's garbage volume 25 percent by 1993.

The original Wisconsin bill called for about $30-million in business taxes. But Thompson used his partial veto power to cut that amount in half, and to set an expiration date of two years to force the Legislature to seek other forms of financing.

Businesses are to begin paying the tax in 1992, to accumulate money for the recycling program, with reassessment of the tax in 1994.

The tax will be graduated: Firms with annual receipts of $1-million are to pay $63 a year; taxes rise to $2,170 for firms with $6-million or more in gross receipts. Companies with gross annual receipts of less than $1-million are exempt from the tax.

The governor also removed sections of the bill that would have banned some types of packaging. He said that "represented a potential threat to Wisconsin jobs with little or no demonstrated environmental gain."

The Legislature approved the measure in late March, after removing some strict features. Among them was a proposed penny-per-diaper tax on disposables to pay for recycling.