Whether we’re setting the bar high for bike-centric holidays or manufacturing something for Jason Monoa to sit on when he rides into adventure, Milwaukee is objectively a unique epicenter for the cycling lifestyle.

So while we’re a terrific place for bicycling and motorcycling (downtown is even home to an “iconic” unicyclist), does any of that ultimately matter if we’re not fully addressing our re-cycling, man?

We each have personal responsibility to leave our little corner of the world better than we found it. Additionally, we in Wisconsin live with perhaps a greater moral obligation given the legacy of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, who was born then buried up north, having served our state for parts of five decades in Madison and Washington, D.C.

Listen, Milwaukee Record goes to great lengths to definitely not be a buzzkill. At the same time, we’re not about to shy away from giving-it-to-you-straight, not-sugar-coating-it, telling-it-like-it-is reportage.

In this spirit, we’ll take the annual Earth Month opportunity to educate, empower, and inspire our readers with ways we can all help the planet a smidge or two more.

When you wish upon an old container of leftover ziti

Ignorance is bliss, but wishcycling can do more harm than good. While we may have the best intentions, those of us walking through life thinking “plastic is plastic” while expecting municipal employees downstream to figure it out might be greenwashing our conscience to the detriment of reality.

Before we dive into the nuance of single-stream curbside recycling, there are some generally applicable—and critical—basics, no matter your locale. Turns out these are common missteps on the journey of good intentions.

Do not put plastic bags into the recycling bin. One bag can gum up the works and shut down a facility. If you happen to have plastic instead of paper bags, drop those off in the receptacle at most grocery stores.

Wash your plastic, glass and cans. Doesn’t have to be spotless and a quick rinse is okay—if and only if liquid or food isn’t stuck inside, which could relegate an entire load of otherwise clean recyclables to the landfill.

Put the lid back on if it’s the same material as the container. Plastic lid on a plastic bottle, of course. Plastic cap on a cardboard carton of orange juice? Recycle the cardboard and throw the cap in the trash. Small plastic objects won’t be sorted for recycling.

Batteries can and do cause big fires. Nothing too confusing here. You can technically throw alkaline batteries in the garbage in Milwaukee, but better to dispose of them properly. Rechargeable and vehicle batteries take more intentional effort to dispose of.

The City of Milwaukee has a fairly straightforward curbside recycling guide that broadly covers most disposable objects. As do Wauwatosa, West Allis, Brookfield, St. Francis, and just about any other town you can Google.

Many specific questions require more research, though. And since you’re very busy with life and we at Milwaukee Record are sadly not, here is a by-no-means-comprehensive but hopefully helpful list of common wonderings.


• Not all plastic is recyclable curbside. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 are generally okay, but check with your municipality or recycling company first.

• Labels are tricky. Peel the plastic off your yogurt container and throw it away before recycling the tub. Most labels offer guidance.

• Don’t flatten plastic bottles. Machines are not yet sentient and might foolishly sort those as cardboard.

• Most recycled plastic cannot be recycled again since the quality breaks down—but rest assured it will hold up for centuries in a landfill.


• Pizza box recyclability is a debate that will never be resolved. Generally, if it’s greasy, rip off the clean top for recycling and toss the bottom. If it’s cheesy, it’s trash.

• Do not throw shredded paper into recycling. That will contaminate the rest of the bin so other materials cannot be separated. Trash it or compost it.

• Envelopes with windows can be recycled without removing the plastic film. Same goes for boxes with stickers and packing tape, though you can also rip that stuff off.

• Break down boxes before throwing them in the bin. This is probably obvious to our intelligent and beautiful readers, but just in case.


• Aluminum can be recycled an infinite number of times and it’s costly to mine. Which is why you can get a few bucks for it if you don’t recycle cans curbside.

• Metal lids on jars and bottles aren’t always recyclable. This one is tricky and depends on who’s emptying your bin, but it’s also valuable, so you can get paid to drop it off.

• Some places recycle aerosol cans—however, if there is any pressurized substance left inside at all, it must be disposed of as hazardous waste. Play it safe.

• Objects like wire coat hangers and cookware should be disposed of with bed frames and tools at scrapyards. Note that smaller bits of recyclable metal can jam machines.


• Glass is heavy, so some places ask residents to bring it into facilities instead of recycling curbside.

• Keep jars and bottles intact. Broken pieces are dangerous for workers, beyond only being useful for grinding down into additives for other materials.

• Windows and mirrors are treated with chemicals, which often means recycling centers won’t accept it.

• You can leave labels on glass since heat in the recycling process will burn them off without you having to take the time.

Reduce & Reuse

Milwaukee sadly said goodbye to zero waste bulk store The Glass Pantry last year. However, Madison’s Green Life Trading Co. opened a new location in that beautiful space at 1039 S. 5th Street.

Readers who want to cut back on the materials they consume can bring bottles, cans, jars, bags, and other containers to fill with the store’s household goods in bulk dispensers. Green Life offers a video with tips for reusing what you already have on hand, along with other resources on their site.

It ain’t easy being green. Fortunately, cities and companies are coming around and recognizing the need to take many of the burdens off consumers with more robust collection efforts and environmentally friendly packaging.

If you’re still confused—and online resources sometimes give mixed messages—it’s best to call whoever takes care of that bin that you roll out to the curb every week before you roll down Wisconsin Avenue on your Knucklehead.

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About The Author

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Brent Gohde is a retired co-founder of Milwaukee Day and the originator of artist collective Cedar Block. By day he works at his actual dream job in HR at a manufacturer. Nights and weekends, he plugs away at the fifth draft of his debut novel. The only trophy he's ever won was for building a time machine.