Column: Keep States from Treating Wisconsin as the Midwest’s Landfill with Increased Tipping Fees

, By Clean Wisconsin

By Mark Redsten, Executive Director

MADISON — Every day trucks heaped with trash from neighboring states barrel over the Wisconsin border to dump trash, some of which pollutes our state’s land, air and water. After unloading garbage, they return to their home states, fill with yet more trash, and repeat the process. With nearly one quarter of the garbage filling our state’s landfills coming from out-of-state, one fact is clear – Wisconsin has become the garbage dump of the Midwest.

Why is this? The answer is simple. Wisconsin’s low tipping fees – the fees charged to dump non-recycled waste in landfills – encourage other states to dump their trash here.

These tipping fees remain significantly lower in Wisconsin’s border communities than the border communities of Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. This disparity in price provides border communities with a substantial financial incentive to export their garbage into our state.

With Wisconsin landfills filling up fast, the rapid influx of out of state garbage is currently unsustainable. At the current rate, Wisconsin will eventually need to begin constructing landfills to meet demand created by both in and out of state trash.

Realizing we have a policy that encourages other states to treat Wisconsin as the garbage dump of the Midwest, state legislators added a budget provision that will increase Wisconsin’s tipping fees and reduce the incentive for other states to ship their trash to Wisconsin.

This provision has generated criticism in local and state media from municipalities who will face an increased cost as a result of the measure.

At Clean Wisconsin, we understand that the increased garbage tipping fees will add a small additional cost to already-strained municipality budgets. However, the benefits of increasing the tipping fee will far outweigh the costs, and the public should support this important measure.

With an increased tipping fee of $7.10 per ton of non-recycled waste, and the average single family home producing around one ton of garbage a year, the average family can expect to pay no more than pocket change every month to ensure that Wisconsin does not remain a convenient garbage dump for our neighbors. This seems like an extraordinarily small price to pay to protect or land, water and air for ourselves and for future generations.

Plus, the advantages of increasing tipping fees go well beyond reducing the unsustainable influx of out-of-state trash.

With a record $6.6 billion state budget deficit and one quarter of our trash coming from out of state, increasing garbage tipping fees provides a convenient way for the state not only to discourage other states from dumping garbage, but also provides a means of raising funds from states who choose to continue the practice. The budget as proposed by the Joint Finance Committee would bring in up to $13.5 million to Wisconsin coffers from out-of-state waste haulers. This will help legislators navigate the budget crisis without raising taxes on every Wisconsin worker.

Additionally, because tipping fees apply only to non-recycled waste, increased tipping fees provide an incentive for municipalities to reduce trash by boosting efficiency in recycling programs – preserving our environment and reducing costs for residents.

Ultimately, as municipalities and residents recycle more, residents can expect to see the already low costs of increased tipping fees mitigated by streamlined waste programs. Wisconsin can thus expect to see substantial environmental benefits for no more than what amounts to pocket change for its residents.

Increased tipping fees may add a small additional cost to city budgets, but they will do so while substantially reducing the unsustainable influx of out-of-state trash, streamlining city recycling programs, and helping state legislators fix the budget crisis without raising taxes on every Wisconsin worker.

When so much benefit comes from such a small cost, it’s clear that increased tipping fees deserve the support of Wisconsin residents. Without them, Wisconsin landfills will fill up quickly and more will soon be needed as the state will remain the convenient garbage dump for states across the Upper Midwest.