Not content with one of the nation’s oldest curbside recycling programs, the city of Madison wants to teach residents to be super recyclers.
Starting next month, residents can attend classes to learn the intricacies of the local recycling system, what can and can’t be recycled, and how to reduce their overall waste.
Those who complete the two 90-minute sessions and a community outreach project will be certified Master Recyclers, equipped not only to tell the difference between No. 1 and No. 5 plastic containers but to help friends, neighbors and coworkers improve their own habits.
Recycling coordinator Bryan Johnson said about 19% of what goes into recycling bins is actually trash, while a recent study found roughly 13% of material in the county’s landfill could be recycled.
“We can be better,” Johnson said. “Madison being Madison, we should be better.”
The city of Madison began collecting newspaper bundles in September 1968 in what is believed to be the nation's first municipal curbside recycling program.
Participants will learn how the sorting system works to better understand what can actually be processed, which should cut down on “wishcycling.” They will also learn the basics of composting and how to be more responsible consumers.
“Just because it has those chasing arrows doesn’t mean it can go in the cart,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, when it comes to sustainable living reducing the amount of waste on the front end is going to do the most good.”
Funded in part by a grant from the Carton Council, the program was developed with the nonprofit group Sustain Dane, which will run the online classes in April and July. The cost for the program is $15. Scholarships are also available through Sustain Dane. Johnson said the program is modeled after the UW Extension service’s Master Gardener program, which trains gardeners to be ambassadors.
“Get them trained up so they can go out and spread this information, especially in places we can’t reach,” Johnson said. “So they feel empowered to do something — I could put a recycling presentation together for my church group.”
Johnson said he believes this will be the first master recycler program in Wisconsin, though similar programs are available in places such as Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon.
“It turns out it’s everywhere,” Johnson said. “Maybe we should have been doing this the whole time.”