People looking out at Lake Michigan

Plastic Pollution

Every year, 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters the Great Lakes, half of which flows into Lake Michigan alone. Like in many communities, you can see this pollution littering our beaches, our streets, and our waterways every day.

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.

Fast Facts:

  • According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, 89% of litter collected from Great Lakes beaches was plastic.

  • 85% of fish from the Milwaukee River were found to contain plastic in their digestive tract (Kelly et al., 2018).
  • 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).

  • Straw Law
  • State Plastics Law
  • Plastic-Free MKE
  • Lake Friendly Programs
  • Green Events
  • Recycling Law
  • Drug Disposal

Paper and bamboo strawsIn November 2019, the Common Council voted on new legislation to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic straws in our community. This legislation took effect April 14, 2020, prohibiting food establishments from providing 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 discarded after one use.


  • Prepackaged individual serving beverages where a small plastic straw is included in the packaging.
  • The provision of a plastic beverage straw to a customer upon request of a plastic beverage straw by the customer.
  • 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.
  • The provision of other approved compostable straws as determined by the environmental sustainability director. 

Straw Law Flyer (English & Spanish)

Acceptable Straw Materials

The 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.

Aceptable materials include, but are not limited to: bagasse, paper, bamboo and vegetable-based plastic alternatives (like "PLA").

It is recommend that 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 and 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. 

Person carrying a plastic bagIn 2015, the State of Wisconsin passed Assembly Bill 730 limiting the authority of cities, villages, towns, or counties to regulate "auxiliary containers," or bags, cups, bottles, and other packaging that is designed to be reusable or single-use.

Specifically, this means the City of Milwaukee CANNOT: 

  1. Enact or enforce an ordnance regulating the use, disposition, or sale of auxiliary containers
  2. Prohibit or restrict auxilary containers
  3. Impose a fee, charge, or surcharge on auxiliary containers

A beach covered in litter and plastic.

The City of Milwaukee is dedicated to becoming a Water Centric City by showcasing our global leadership in managing our water resources in a sustainable and resilient way. The Environmental Collaboration Office is proud to be a core organizing member of the Plastic-Free MKE movement.

The Plastic-Free MKE Coalition is made up of passionate community members, small business owners, agencies, and local non-profits all working to protect our health, waterways, and communities. Residents can get involved with Plastic-Free MKE through a range of volunteer activites. Visit the Plastic-Free MKE Volunteer Page for more information or email [email protected]

Plastic-Free Resources

Plastic Free Yard SignsA business or neighborhood does not need to be by the water to see the benefits of being Lake Friendly. With a growing awareness of the damage plastic pollution causes our city, consumers are looking to find and support local businesses doing their part and help drive change.

Lake Friendly Business Program

  • What is It? The program was created in collaboration with Plastic-Free MKE to help local business owners make the switch from styrofoam and other single-use plastics to more sustainable materials. View the Full List of Lake Friendly Locations.
  • How to Get Involved: Businesses that pledge to be Lake Friendly will be paired with a trained volunteer to audit current practices and switch to reusable, compostable, and recyclable materials.
  • Benefits: Businesses that successfully meet Lake Friendly criteria will receive a window decal, marketing materials, and promotion from Plastic-Free MKE. 

Lake Friendly Neighborhood Program

  • What is It? The program is a NEW opportunity to help homeowners prevent plastic pollution. Sherman Park is the first Lake Friendly Neighborhood.
  • How to Get Involved: Host drop-off locations for plastic bag recycling, install and maintain a Hold On To Your Butt MKE cigarette butt receptacle, promote composting, hold clean-up events, and invite Plastic-Free MKE to community events at least once a year.
  • Benefits: Neighborhoods that meet Lake Friendly criteria will receive 50 co-branded Lake Friendly Neighborhood yard signs, educational marketing materials, and promotion.

people at a street festTake the first steps toward a conscious community event that protects the environment with helpful tips from Milwaukee's Green Events Guide.

Remember the basics:

  • Reduce: The best way to keep waste out of our waterways and streets is to use less. 
  • Reuse: Switching to reusable containers allows you to use them again and again.
  • Compost: Employing a compost system at your event can reduce your container waste but also give your food scraps a second life. 
  • Recycle: Recycling is the law in the State of Wisconsin. 
  • Landfill: Be sure to always have adequate trash receptacles to prevent contamination of bins. 

Download the Milwaukee Green Events Guide Brochure 

Recycling is the law in the State of Wisconsin. When the Wisconsin Waste Reduction and Recycling Law passed in 1990, about 17% of municipal solid waste was recycled. By the end of 2004, 10 years after the recycling requirements were fully implemented, the number had climbed to 32%. Today, recycling markets are expanding, creating jobs in Wisconsin and diverting waste from landfills. Learn more about recycling from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Milwaukee Recycling Guide:




  • Aluminum and Steel Cans

*Empty and rinse

*No caps

  • Food and Beverage Cartons

*Empy and rinse

*Replace Caps

  • Bottles and Jars

*Empty and rinse

*Don't break

*Drinking glasses, mugs, ceramics, china, pyrex and window glass: Place in trash. These products use ingredients during manufacture that are considered contaminants in the glass recycling process.




  • Cereal Boxes
  • Newspaper
  • Magazines
  • Mail
  • Flattened Cardboard
  • Tubes
  • Shredded paper: Place in a sealed paper bag

*Break down boxes & flatten

*Plastic windows on envelopes: Do not need ot remove

*Sticky notes: Adhesive used by 3M Post-it notes is OK

*Glue dots: Such as used to attach credit card paper to paper mailing should be removed and placed in garbage

  • Kitchen, Laundry, Bath: Bottles & Containers
  • Marked on bottom with #1, #2, or #5

*Empty and rinse

*Replace cap

  • Appliances
  • Bagged Recyclables
  • Batteries
  • Ceramics
  • Christmas Trees or Lights
  • Cords
  • Cups (Paper or Styrofoam)
  • Drinking Glasses or Mugs
  • Garden Pots or Trays
  • Hangers
  • Light Bulbs
  • Loose Caps and Lids
  • Paper Plates
  • Plastic Bags, Wrap, or Film
  • Plastics #3,4, 6
  • Plastic Utensils
  • Scrap Metal
  • Styrofoam (Plastic #6)
  • Take Out Containers
  • Tissue Paper

Person placing drugs in drop boxProperly disposing of unused, unwanted, or old medications helps prevent medicines from being taken by others and protects our environment. Never flush or pour unused or expired medicine down the drain. Water reclamation facilities are not designed to remove all of them, and trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are showing up in rivers and lakes around the world. 

  • Drop Box Locations: In the city of Milwaukee, medications may be taken 24/7 to disposal drop boxes at select locations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4:45 p.m. For disposal locations outside the city of Milwaukee, check with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.
  • Mail-Back Program: Envelope Pick-up Locations: FREE postage-paid drug-disposal envelopes are available to area residents for the disposal of unwanted or expired prescriptions. Empty the contents of your unwanted or expired prescription drug vials into the secure envelope, seal it, and place it in the mail.

Find Disposal Guidelines and Locations


This site is powered by the Northwoods Titan Content Management System