ELM GROVE, Wis. — Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources data shows we generate 4.6 million tons of trash and recyclables in the state each year. 

The Elm Grove community is stepping up to help reduce the amount of solid waste ending up in landfills. 

Community volunteers conducted a trash audit, in partnership with waste management company Johns Disposal. Elm Grove is the first municipality in the state to audit residential waste.

The audit was completed by a group of volunteers from the village. Most are a part of the Elm Grove Green Team. The group formed in the summer of 2019 as a group of citizens eager to connect with others in their community who shared their passion for the environment.

(Spectrum News 1/Katarina Velazquez)

The objectives of the audit were to improve recycling efficiency, decrease solid waste ending up in the landfill, and ultimately, save the community money by reducing landfill fees and improving recycling accuracy. 

Deb Baeseman is part of the Green Team. She said she works along with others who are passionate about helping the village become more sustainable. 

“We’ve got a really dynamic group of people who are passionate about our community and excited to make it better,” said Baeseman. 

(Spectrum News 1/Katarina Velazquez)

The idea for the audit was born from an article about a town in Ohio that successfully decreased food waste. 

The Elm Grove Green Team separated about 2,500 pounds of trash into nine categories where they hope to make improvements. 

Although this is only a fraction of the roughly 1,700 tons of solid waste produced annually within Elm Grove, the group said they hope it will allow a framework by which to guide improvement efforts. 

A repeat audit is planned in one year to document the community’s progress. 

(Spectrum News 1/Katarina Velazquez)

“This is the first time our local community has done one of these and Johns Disposal has been instrumental in helping this get off the ground,” said Baeseman.

Village Manager David DeAngelis said this initiative helps people understand where their waste goes. He said he’s grateful that the community stepped up. 

“They are very passionate about this,” said DeAngelis. “We wouldn’t be doing this without them and their desire to try to move this forward. We’re very grateful for their work and their efforts.”  

Dan Jongetjes is a third-generation worker at Johns Disposal. He said they’re working together to improve recycling efficiency. 

“Typically, you audit recycling and see how much garbage is in the recycling,” he said. “Instead, we’re finding out how much recycling and other items are in the trash.” 

Jongetjes said the audit results will help sustainability efforts. 

“By diverting recycling out of the trash stream, we’re going to make the useful life of our landfills go on for many more years,” he said.

Volunteers said they hope this work inspires other communities to be part of creating an overall healthier environment.