As in all communities, Milwaukee residents have always needed to dispose of the garbage they produced. One disposal method that transforms the metropolitan landscape is sanitary landfills—sites where garbage is dumped into trenches and covered with soil. At times the use of landfills brought the city of Milwaukee into conflict with both neighboring and distant municipalities.
Although accepted later, landfills were controversial in the Milwaukee area during the nineteenth century. In 1875 the City of Milwaukee began contracting with private companies to dispose of residential waste. Most of this garbage was either used as hog feed, in “rendering” facilities where animal tissue was converted into tallow and grease products, or burned in incinerators. During the 1880s and 1890s, officials in the towns of Greenfield and Wauwatosa, as well as the Town of Milwaukee, resisted emergency efforts to bury the City’s waste on area farms. Voicing concerns about perceived health risks, these towns used court injunctions, trials, a grand jury investigation, and local ordinances to block the construction of landfills.
Milwaukee and surrounding areas steadily increased their use of landfills during the twentieth century. Beginning in 1902, Milwaukee used city-owned incinerators to dispose of waste. Over the next few decades, suburban communities—including Shorewood, South Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, West Allis, and Whitefish Bay—began to run their own incinerators. But all of these municipalities used landfill disposal on an overflow basis. Further, with the decline of the rendering industry in the early twentieth century, most of the area’s noncombustible waste and incinerator ashes ended up in municipal and private landfills outside of the city. Suburbs without incinerators and private businesses (including hotels, restaurants, and stores) generally hired private waste haulers to dispose of garbage in area landfills. Pressure from private haulers and local municipalities demanding more landfill space spurred the creation of a Milwaukee County “dump” in 1956. Located near the border of the cities of Greendale and Franklin, it was open to use by individual citizens, private haulers, and local governments.
As its incinerators aged, Milwaukee faced a garbage crisis in the late 1960s. Proposals to haul all of Milwaukee County’s garbage by rail to landfills in western Wisconsin and Illinois were rejected. Efforts to create a county-wide waste disposal system, which would have included new incinerators operated by Milwaukee County, were halted in 1969 after legal challenges from several municipalities. Finally, in late 1970, the city of Milwaukee contracted with Acme Disposal Service Corp. to dispose of its waste in area landfills. By the 1980s most municipalities in Milwaukee County were using their own trucks to collect and transport garbage to landfills. Most of these were operated by Waste Management, Inc., a national waste disposal company that had experienced rapid growth over the previous decade by acquiring smaller companies, including Acme. By 1985 Waste Management operated landfills in the Village of Germantown and the cities of Muskego and Franklin that together served up to 75% of the Milwaukee area’s communities. One defunct landfill in Franklin has been repurposed as a ski hill.
Licensed Solid Waste Landfills in the Greater Milwaukee Area as of 2014:
- Advanced Disposal Services Emerald Park LLC, Muskego, Waukesha County
- Falk Landfill, South Milwaukee, Milwaukee County
- Kestrel Hawk LF, Racine, Racine County
- Waste Management of Wisconsin-Metro Recycling & Disposal, Franklin, Milwaukee County
- Waste Management of Wisconsin-Orchard Ridge Recycling & Disposal, Caledonia, Waukesha County
- Wisconsin Electric Power Company (WEPCO) Caledonia LF, Caledonia, Racine County
- Wisconsin Electric Power Company (WEPCO) HWY 32 LF, Grafton, Ozaukee County
- ^ Judith Walzer Leavitt, The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982), 129 and 148; Charles D. Goff et al., “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County: Report of Refuse and Garbage Disposal Committee, Metropolitan Study Commission” ([Milwaukee, Wis.?], Metropolitan Study Commission, 1959), 17-20.
- ^ Leavitt, The Healthiest City, 124-150; Goff et al., “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County,”16.
- ^ Goff et al., “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County,”17-20.
- ^ Leavitt, The Healthiest City, 151; Goff et al., “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County,” 32-47, 63.
- ^ Leavitt, The Healthiest City, 151-152; Goff et al., “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County,” 34-35, 59.
- ^ Goff et al., “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County,” 41-42, 48-49b, 56-59.
- ^ Goff et al., “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County,” 20, 41-42, 48-49, 52-53, 55-59, 67-69.
- ^ Goff et al., “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County,” 62-65.
- ^ “Milwaukee: County Incinerator Plan Must Be Speeded,” Milwaukee Journal, June 9, 1969; “Milwaukee: County Incinerator to Serve All the Efficient Way,” Milwaukee Journal, January 8, 1966; “Suburban Reaction Is Cool to County Incinerator Plan,” Milwaukee Journal, September 30, 1965; “County Incinerator One Step Nearer,” Milwaukee Sentinel, September 16, 1967; “Home Rule Argued in Incinerator Case Appeal,” Milwaukee Journal, May 8, 1968; “Incinerator Funding Faces Test in Court,” Milwaukee Journal, August 21, 1968; “County Incinerator OK’d by High Court,” Milwaukee Journal, June 7, 1968; “2 Bills Seek to Limit Incinerator Financing,” Milwaukee Journal, February 12, 1969; “Incinerator Appeal Suggested,” Milwaukee Journal, June 12, 1968; Larry Engel, “County’s Waste Disposal Plan Alive, but in Trouble,” Milwaukee Sentinel, June 15, 1970.
- ^ Alex P. Dobish, “Acme Won Milwaukee Garbage Contract,” Milwaukee Journal, March 1, 1973; Alex P. Dobish, “Garbageland, USA?: No Thanks, Says Wyocena,” Milwaukee Journal, May 16, 1969; “Outstate Trash Landfill Proposed,” Milwaukee Sentinel, July 1, 1969; Larry Engel, “County’s Waste Disposal Plan Alive, but in Trouble,” Milwaukee Sentinel, June 15, 1970.
- ^ Lawrence C. Lohman, “Garbage: Trouble That Can’t Be Tossed Aside,” Milwaukee Journal, March 3, 1985; James Gribble, “Battle Shaping Up in Waste Business,” Milwaukee Journal, July 14, 1986; Walter Fee, “New Trial for Waste Firm Slated,” Milwaukee Journal, December 21, 1981; “Town May Resist Milwaukee’s Use Of Dump,” Milwaukee Sentinel, April 13, 1982.
- ^ Lawrence C. Lohman, “Garbage: Trouble That Can’t Be Tossed Aside,” Milwaukee Journal, March 3, 1985.
- ^ Tom Daykin, “The Rock Expanding Attractions at Franklin Ski Hill,” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 8, 2013, last accessed August 31, 2017.
- ^ “Licensed Solid Waste Landfills in the Greater Milwaukee Area,” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/waste/documents/faclists/wislic_swlandfills.pdf, accessed August 16, 2014.
For Further Reading
Goff, Charles, et al. “Refuse and Garbage Disposal in Milwaukee County: Report of Refuse and Garbage Disposal Committee, Metropolitan Study Commission.” Milwaukee: Milwaukee Metropolitan Study Commission, 1959.
Leavitt, Judith Walzer. The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.
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