MADISON: Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal released last week includes a provision that would end state funding for recycling programs and eliminate a state law guaranteeing residents access to local recycling programs. Repealing the recycling law would move Wisconsin 2 decades backward, and legislators should act quickly to remove this embarrassing provision from the budget.

First passed in 1990, the Wisconsin Recycling Law requires businesses and residents to recycle certain items and also requires counties and municipalities to provide residents with access to local recycling programs. Coupled with state funding for recycling, this law has been wildly successful in keeping waste out of landfills. Curbside recycling helped keep over 400,000 tons of material out of Wisconsin landfills in 2009 alone.

A whole generation has grown up learning the recycling ethic, and Wisconsin is recognized as a national leader in recycling. People of all political stripes support it, and a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) survey found that 90 percent of Wisconsin residents support recycling and the recycling ethic.

Cutting recycling in the budget would require local governments across the state to cut back on programs and, worse, likely cause some to cut recycling programs all together.

A relatively small amount of state investment currently ensures that residents have access to convenient, robust recycling programs in  communities like Eau Claire, Appleton, La Crosse, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine.

Facing budget shortfalls of their own, local leaders in these communities would likely respond to state budget cuts by limiting the types of materials that can be recycled.

Even more worrisome is that many smaller communities such as Forest, Menominee, Florence, Marquette, Iron and Rusk Counties rely 100 percent on state funding for their recycling programs. Residents in these areas may entirely lose access to local recycling programs if the Governor’s budget proposal passes as is.

Cutting access to recycling programs is an unthinkably large step backward and could result in dangerous waste such as lead acid batteries, tires and waste oils being dumped in landfills.

Furthermore, local administrators are expressing concern that raising recycling and garbage collection fees to offset budget cuts could result in residents dumping recyclable material and garbage in fields and forests.

And, in addition to all of the environmental consequences, ending funding for recycling would threaten an industry that supports thousands of family-supporting jobs across the state.

With so much to lose, cutting recycling in the budget is simply unacceptable.

 In 1999, funding for the Recycling Law was set to expire, but legislators recognized the monumental importance of recycling to Wisconsin’s environment and economy, and worked together to restore funds to the program before passing the budget.

Wisconsin’s current legislators should do the same, and side with the 90 percent of Wisconsin residents who support recycling. Every Wisconsinite deserves access to local recycling programs.