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Join the Lake Friendly Movement

A beach covered in litter and plastic. The Problem with Plastics... 

Every year, 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters the Great Lakes, half of which flows into Lake Michigan alone. Like in many commuities, you can see this pollution littering our beaches, our streets, and our waterways every day. But recent research has shown the real threat is in the plastic you can't see. While plastic never truly decomposes, over time it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces called "microplastics," that are often too small to see without a microscope. These plastic pieces eventually end up in our water, our food, and in our bodies. 

  • According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, 89% of litter collected from Great Lakes beaches was plastic. 
  • Globally, microplastics can be found in 93% of all bottled water (Orb Media, 2018). 
  • One study found, on average, beer brewed with water from the Great Lakes contains about 4 man-made particles per liter, 99% of which were plastic fibers (Kosuth et al., 2018). 
  • 85% of fish from the Milwaukee River were found to contain plastic in their digestive tract (Kelly et al., 2018). 

The City of Milwaukee is dedicated to becoming a Water Centric City, showcasing our global leadership in managing our water resources in a sustainable and resilient way. While this issue is global, ECO has taken a leadership role in protecting our waterways from single-use plastic pollution. We 're part of the Plastic-Free MKE Movement and we welcome you to join us in making Milwaukee a Lake Friendly City!

Click below to learn more about...

  • Straw Law
  • Plastic-Free MKE
  • Lake Friendly Businesses
  • Recycling Laws
  • Green Events
  • Other Resources

City of Milwaukee Straw Legislation

In November 2019, the Milwaukee Common Council voted on new legislation to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic straws in our community. This legislation took effect on April 14, 2020. See below for full legislation language: 

68-32. Single-Use, Plastic Straws.

1. PROHIBITED. Effective April 14, 2020, no food establishment may provide any customer with a single-use, plastic straw, where “single-use” means a product that is designed and intended to be used only once and is generally recognized by the public as an item that is to be discarded after one use.

2. EXEMPTIONS. Subsection 1 shall not prohibit:
a. Prepackaged individual serving beverages where a small plastic straw is included in the packaging.
b. The provision of a plastic beverage straw to a customer upon request of a plastic beverage straw by the customer.
c. The provision of a plastic beverage straw to a customer receiving a viscous beverage, such as a milkshake or smoothie, that requires a large, durable straw, for which a non-plastic straw would not be suitable.
d. The provision of any other approved compostable straw as determined by the environmental sustainability director. The environmental sustainability director shall maintain a list of acceptable compostable straws.

Acceptable Straw Materials

Biodegradable Products Institute logoThe Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is North America's leading certifier of compostable products. While plastic straws may only be provided upon request, reusable straws of any material and single-use BPI-Certified biodegradable straws may be offered at any time. These materials include (but are not limited to) bagasse, paper, bamboo, and vegetable-based plastic alternatives (like "PLA"). 

We recommend you consult both your regular material supplier and BPI's Online Database to find the alternative products that work best for your business. 

Straws and Accessibility 

Many individuals in our community require straws to drink due to a wide variety of strength, mobility, and other medical concerns. Unfortunately, many compostable options are not always viable solutions. Those who require straws need them in both hot and cold beverages. Metal straws will heat up in coffee. Paper straws pose choking hazards for some individuals. Some individuals require more flexible or soft materials than glass or bamboo straws. 

This legislation was created specifically with these individuals in mind. Single-use plastic straws can and should be available for those who request them. These disabilities are not always visible-- if someone requests a plastic straw, trust they know what's best for their bodies and respect their request. 

Plastic-Free MKE

PassPassionate community members, small business owners, engineers, agenices, local non-profits-- all make up the Plastic-Free MKE coalition, working to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics in our community. We at ECO are proud to be core organizing members of the Plastic-Free MKE movement. 

Plastic-Free MKE is addressing plastics because they impact our health, our waterways, and our communities. Volunteer with us! Join the Plastic-Free MKE movement!

Volunteer and Get Involved

If you own or manage a local business, the best way to get involved with Plastic-Free MKE is through the Lake Friendly Business Program, which focuses on certifying and promoting restaurants, bars, and cafes that have taken steps to reduce their single-use plastics. 

However, several additional volunteer opportunities are available, ranging from recruiting other businesses as Lake Friendly to public awareness and educational initiatives.

Check out the Plastic-Free MKE Volunteer Page for more information, or send your questions to 

Lake Friendly Business Program 

Plastic-Free MKE "Lake Friendly" logo
The Lake Friendly Business Program was created in collaboration with a local movement called Plastic-Free MKE to help local business owners make the switch from styrofoam and other single-use plastics to more sustainable materials. Businesses that pledge to be Lake Friendly will be paired with a trained volunteer to audit your current practices and help you make the switch to reusable, compostable, and recyclable materials. Those that successfully meet the Lake Friendly criteria will receive a Lake Friendly window decal, marketing materials, and promotion from Plastic-Free MKE. 

Your business doesn't need to be by the lake or a river to see the benefits of being Lake Friendly. With a growing awareness of the damage plastic pollution causes our city (and our planet) consumers are looking to find and support local businesses doing their part. 

 Click here to check out a list of our Lake Friendly Business Program. 


Lake Friendly Business Program Requirements: Employees of Tricklebee Cafe show off their Lake Friendly Certification.

1. Provide Reusable Tableware: No single-use plastic is present anywhere on the table. This includes cups, straws, stirrers, and condiments. Use this guide to start your switch to reusable tableware!

2. No Styrofoam: Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, a type of plastic typically used for inexpensive, disposable products (such as cups, plates, clamshels, etc.), is often found in the majority of environmental cleanups. EPS foam impacts animal life, ecosystems, rivers, and lakes. 

3. Follow Proper Recycling Practices Back of House: Ensure that all recyclables are recycled. Refer to the City of Milwaukee recycling guidelines. Note that the Department of Natural Resources has banned certain items, including plastics #1 and #2, from landfills statewide.

4. Provide Compostable Straws/Stirrers Only on Request: This results in a huge reduction, breaks habits, and makes use of straws/stirrers unfashionable. 

5. Provide Compostable Options for To-Go Orders: Bagasse (is a tree-free paper product made from plant fiber) is the ideal option because it can be composted at home. Plant-based plastic (Polylactic acid, or PLA) is the next best option (requires hot composting). Only give compostable or paper cutlery and condiments on request. The majority of materials must be compostable, or if using plastic, they must be recyclable. This guide is helpful in considering environmentally-friendly disposable options. 

6. No Plastic Bags for To-Go Orders: Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year and only 1% are returned for recycling. Over 100,000 marine animals are killed by bags each year! Bags should only be given on request and should be made fom paper or another renewable resource. 

As part of the program, Plastic-Free MKE also requires businesses to choose from the following: 

  • Compost all back of house food waste
  • Compost all front of house food waste
  • No beverages sold in plastic bottles
  • Provide and display discount for customers bringing their own mugs or beverage containers
  • Install and maintain a cigarette butt receptacle outside of your business, with educational signage from the Milwaukee Tobacco Free Alliance's Hold On To Your Butt MKE campaign.


Benefits of Becoming a Lake Friendly Business

Becoming Lake Friendly is about more than just protecting the environment-- it's about showcasing your commitment to a clean and healthy community. This program can help you make the most out of doing the right thing. 

  • Increased business from customers who care.
  • Recognition as part of a larger movement. 
  • A listing on Plastic-Free MKE's website and promotion through social media. 
  • Lake Friendly marketing materials. 
  • Use of the Lake Friendly logo to showcase your business.


For more information or to set up a consultation, check out Plastic-Free MKE's website or set up a Lake Friendly consultation at

Wisconsin State Recycling Law

Recycling is the law in the State of Wisconsin. In 1990, banning certain materials from landfills and incinerators statewide. Click here for an overview of the Wisconsin Waste Reduction and Recycling Law, produced by the Department of Natural Resources. Banned materials include: 

Containers Paper and Cardboard Yard Materials
  • Plastics #1 and #2, bottles, and jars.
  • Aluminum containers
  • Bi-metal cans and containers
  • Glass containers
  • Steel (tin) cans and containers
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Magazines, catalogs, and other materials on similar paper
  • Newspaper and newsprint materials
  • Office paper
  • Grass clippings
  • Debris and brush under 6" in diameter
  • Leaves
Automotive Appliances Electronics
  • Lead-acid vehicle batteries
  • Tires
  • Used oil filters
  • Waste oils
  • Air conditioners
  • Boilers
  • Clothes dryers
  • Clothes washers
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Freezers
  • Furnaces
  • Microwaves
  • Refrigerators
  • Stoves and ovens
  • Water heaters
  • Cell phones
  • Computers - desktop, laptop, netbook, tablet
  • Computer monitors
  • Desktop printers 
  • E-Readers
  • Fax machines
  • Other computer accessories 
  • Televisions 

Preemption in Wisconsin, or "the Ban on Bans"

More and more cities around the globe are turning towards bans, fees, taxes, or other legislative means to reduce their community's consumption of single-use plastics. However, in Wisconsin, we have what's called "preemption," commonly referred to as a "ban on bans," prohibiting the City of Milwaukee and other local governments from making legislative decisions about our own community with regard to plastic bags, cups, and other single-use containers. Wisconsin is currently one of 13 states with full preemption. Read the full details of the legislation below. 

2015 Assembly Bill 730

This bill limits the authority of a political subdivision (a city, village, town, or county) to regulate auxiliary containers. “Auxiliary container” is defined as “a bag, cup, bottle, or other packaging that is designed to be reusable or single-use; that is made of cloth, paper, plastic, cardboard, corrugated material, aluminum, glass, postconsumer recycled material, or similar material or substrates, including coated, laminated, or multi-layer substrates; and that is designed for transporting or protecting merchandise, food, or beverages from a food service or retail facility.” Specifically, with certain exceptions, a political subdivision may not 1) enact or enforce an ordinance regulating the use, disposition, or sale of auxiliary containers, 2) prohibit or restrict auxiliary containers, or 3) impose a fee, charge, or surcharge on auxiliary containers.

Planning Green Events

Milwaukee is proud to be the City of Festivals, but often times our public events leave our streets and waterways littered with plastic and debris, posing serious threats to the environment and health. The new City of Milwaukee Green Events Guide can help you take the first steps towards a conscious community event that protects the environment. 

  • Reduce: The best way to keep waste out of our waterways and streets is to use less. This can be as easy as offering individual utensils instead of plastic bags with a fork, knife, and spoon that won't all be used, for example. Do your guests really need plastic bags? Take a moment before you buy to consider what your event actually needs in order to be successful. 
  • Reuse: Switching to reusable containers at your event is easier than ever! Wisconsin State Health Code allows drinkware to be refilled again and again as long as the cup doesn't touch the pour spout (just like using your own travel mug at your favorite coffee shop). You can even order commemorative cups to use throughout the event!
  • Compost: Employing a compost system at your event can reduce your container waste but also give your food scraps a second life. Organizations like Compost Crusader and Kompost Kids can help facilitate the system and educate your guests!
  • Recycle: Recycling is the law in the State of Wisconsin. The City of Milwaukee recycles paper, cardboard, metal cans, and plastics #1,2, & 5. Prevent confusion and contamination by avoiding containers that can't be recycled all together. Styrofoam (Plastic #6, or polystyrene) is not recyclable in Milwaukee and never breakds down in the landfill -- a styrofoam free event is an easy first sustainable step!
  • Landfill: We know it's impossible to completely prevent waste to the landfill. Be sure to always have adequate trash receptacles to prevent contamination of your recycling and compost bins. Aim for the trifecta: compost, recycling, and landfill in a row with clear and consistent labeling. 

Other Resources

Plastic-Free MKE logo

Plastic-Free MKE offers resources to help reduce your consumption of single-use plastics, as well as a list of Lake-Friendly restaurants and businesses committed to protecting the health of our watersheds and our communities.  

Milwaukee Recycle for Good logo

Learn more about how to recycle in the City of Milwaukee and download educational signage to post in your business or at your event.

Compost Crusader logo

Compost Crusader is working to empower individuals and organizations to divert organic material from landfills in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. They can provide compost hauling and education for businesses and events of all sizes.

Kompost Kids logo

Kompost Kids is a volunteer-run, nonprofit organizations dedicated to transforming our waste stream through active landfill diversion and local disposal of food residuals and other composables.

Rock the Green logo

Rock the Green is an award-winning producer of green events that can coordinate your zero waste efforts and reduce efforts and reduce your organizations eco-footprint.

The City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance logo

Cigarette butts and other tobacco products are the most commonly littered item in the world. The City of Milwaukee Tobacco Free Alliance has resources to plan smoke-free events or to properly dispose of tobacco product waste.


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