Wisconsin's tough 1990 recycling law has been dealt another blow, with a federal appellate court striking down a ban on landfilling out-of-state waste. The three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel in Chicago last week ruled that the Wisconsin law effectively prevents waste, including plastics, generated in other states from being sent to landfills in the Badger state, and therefore violates the free commerce provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
``It's not a total loss,'' said Paul Didier, director of the Wisconsin Solid and Hazardous Waste Program. ``Most communities have rules of their own, some of which are restrictive, so we won't be receiving all the waste flows from out of state, but it is fair to say that the court's decision will result in our landfills filling up faster.''
The law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires communities to collect high density polyethylene and PET packaging for recycling.
Wisconsin's law initially called for a ban of all plastic packaging from state landfills. However, plastics other than HDPE and PET were exempted from the prohibition when recycling markets for other resins failed to develop.
Didier said no decision has been made on whether to take the next step in restricting out-of-state dumpers, which would be to carry the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lynn Morgan, manager of governmental affairs for Oakbrook, Ill.-based Waste Management Inc., the largest garbage collection company in North America, said the ruling is good news for her company and for other companies in surrounding states that wished to take waste to Wisconsin landfills.
``The Wisconsin law included very restrictive procedures,'' she said in a telephone interview. ``It said, basically, that for any company or community to dump waste in Wisconsin facilities, they had to have a recycling program approved under Wisconsin's law, and that the whole community must comply.
``We had problems, because while we operate our Wisconsin landfills under the state law, we had customers out of state with excellent recycling programs, who could not send their waste to those facilities because the communities in which they didbusiness did not want to modify their own rules to comply with Wisconsin's rules,'' said Morgan.
Susan Hundt Bergan, Recycling Program development unit leader for the Wisconsin Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste, said about 117,593 tons of plastic scrap was deposited in Wisconsin landfills in 1993, the last year for which complete data were available. That is about 3.1 percent of the total of municipal solid waste landfilled that year. The figure includes PET and HDPE, which are now recovered for recycling under the state law, and polystyrene foam, which is also collected and recycled under separate rules.
State projections for the waste flow for 1995 estimated that 22,548 tons of HDPE and PET would be recovered for recycling, while 8,666 tons would be landfilled, and 413 tons would be incinerated.
Estimates for foam were that 202 tons would be recovered for recycling, 482 tons incinerated and 7,668 landfilled, and that 1,321 tons of mixed waste film would be recovered, 1,445 tons incinerated, and 97,457 tons landfilled.
Hundt Bergan was not able to estimate what percentage of those estimated amounts would have come from out of state.
She said that in 1994 Wisconsin accepted 419,283 tons of municipal solid waste from Illinois, 17,000 tons from Indiana, 7,626 tons from Iowa, 26,707 from Michigan and 95,327 tons from Minnesota. She could not break out the plastic content of that solid waste flow.
``The difference can be seen when you consider that as of the week before the court ruling, there was no waste coming in from Illinois, which was the largest user of our landfills the year before, because there were no communities which had been approved under our law,'' Hundt Bergan said. ``In contrast, there are a number of communities in Minnesota and Iowa which had done the paperwork and been approved to use our landfills.''.
Marty Forman, a Milwaukee-based former plastics recycler and a board member of the National Recycling Coalition, said the issue in Wisconsin was never so much where the waste came from as it was the conservation of landfill space.
``The thrust of my efforts to get the laws passed was to promote recycling of what is really a valuable resource,'' Forman said in a telephone interview. ``Projections are that we might be able to reduce the volume of waste deposited in our landfills by 50 percent this year.''