Recycling has developed into a service too valuable to toss on the scrap heap.
Some officials worry Wisconsin communities will revert to a sort of Wild West dumping ground if Gov. Scott Walker's budget passes as is. Under the plan, subsidies for local recycling programs would end and municipalities would no longer be required to run those programs.
Whatever the state does, it's imperative that local governments find ways to continue to offer recycling services. Otherwise, they should prepare to hold their noses for a long, long time.
Technically the burden falls on residents, because the law requiring them to separate recyclable products from their garbage will remain intact. It's preposterous to expect each resident to arrange for pickup separately -- a worst-case scenario the state Department of Natural Resources presents -- so cities, villages and towns will have to coordinate the efforts.
A cleaner alternative than garbage, recycling trims energy usage and maximizes the use of existing materials. That in itself is an improvement from a few decades ago, but for years we have pointed out its benefits stretch beyond environmentalism.
Sending plastic, paper and other materials to a recycler brings local governments revenue, however modest. That's a much healthier strategy than racking up hefty disposal fees. The difference can amount to more than $50 per ton.
Recycling also keeps thousands of tons of waste out of landfills each year, lengthening their lifespan. In 2009, the general manager of the company that oversees Kestrel Hawk landfill in Racine said it could fit seven or eight more years worth of trash if volume remained steady. If recycling were wiped out or access cut back, the surge in trash dumping would bring that deadline even closer.
Plus, as the industry points out, the recycling process creates more jobs than the simple dumping of waste does. All the more reason to keep it on track.
We recognize it'll be tough without the state funding. Local governments may have to boost existing fees to cover the costs of their recycling programs, and smaller communities might drop curbside pickup in favor of a fixed site where residents bring recyclables.
Whether the items are collected in bags, carts or something else, a community without recycling would be left feeling awfully blue.