Wausau working to improve sustainability

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The results of Wausau’s recycling audit show that residents are recycling, but there’s room for improvement for what is and what isn’t going in the correct bins.

Michelle Goetsch presents the city of Wausau's recycling audit to the Sustainability, Energy and Environment Committee at Wausau City Hall. (WSAW photo 2/26/20)

“There are residents out there who want to recycle right, but are frustrated that they just don’t have the proper instructions,” explained Michelle Goetsch, co-founder of ERbin, the company that conducted the audit. “We went out and audited about 117 homes. 84 percent of those homes had something in the recycling bins that shouldn’t have been there. That’s unacceptable and 65 of those bins, trash bins had something that should have been in the recycling.”

The ERbin app is currently being tested in the village of Weston. Users can use the app to scan the barcode of an object and it will then tell them if it’s acceptable to recycle in their area.

“I think it’s definitely something the city should look into,” said Claire Meney, chair of Wausau’s Sustainability, Energy and Environment Committee. “Almost everybody has a cellphone right at their fingertips all the time and if they could quickly use it to learn more of what they should or shouldn’t do, I think it would create better habits for everyone.”

The chance of Wausau incorporating the app are in the works, with Goetsch explaining the concept at the committee’s meeting Wednesday night.

“We’ll see what kind of a deal can be crafted and then this committee will look at it and possibly endorse or recommend to the full city council that we try this,” said Alderman Patrick Peckham. “We are supposed to be diligent in getting our citizens to do the right thing.”

Another topic discussed was solar energy in the city of Wausau.

A representative with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association spoke to the committee and citizens present at the meeting about the benefits of solar energy. According to Peckham, the city is working to make it easier for residents to switch to solar power.

“We’ve already modified the city regulations in terms of you are now entitled to be able to do that,” explained Peckham. “You don’t have to come in for special permission or anything. It’s run through like any other improvement to your home or business, and we’re just making it easier for people and kind of enabling it to happen.”

Along with looking for citizens to participate, the MREA is also helping Wisconsin schools move to solar energy, with module donations, online courses and a webinar series.