The City's recycling program officially began in 1989 as a result of a comprehensive recycling study. The study examined various recycling options and included a plan of action for implementation.
The first provisions of the State's recycling law became effective in 1991, when major appliances, waste oil and lead-acid batteries were banned from all Wisconsin landfills. In response, the City established a drop-off collection point at the sanitary landfill for all of these materials, where residents can bring them at no cost. There is a separate collection area for tires, which have also been banned from the landfill. The City contracts to have the tires shredded and then marketed for use as a fuel supplement to coal. A fee is charged for tire disposal to cover the cost of processing.
In 1993, the second phase of the recycling law became effective banning yard waste from Wisconsin landfills. In response, the City established a yard waste composting facility adjacent to the currently operating demolition landfill. Residents of Janesville can drop off all yard waste at the site free of charge. The City manages these wastes to create compost, which can be obtained by residents free of charge. The City also provides two, one-week curbside collections of containerized yard waste and bundled brush, one in the spring and one in the fall.
The City began curbside recycling in April 1994 in anticipation of the final phase of the State's recycling law, which banned an additional ten materials from Wisconsin landfills in 1995. Residents are offered every-other-week collection of newspapers, cardboard, magazines, paper and mixed containers.
Collection was accomplished using one person, side-loading vehicles specifically designed for recycling until April 26, 2012. Starting April 29, 2012, the City began using an automated collection system.
In 1995, the City received a Governor's Recycling Award for outstanding achievement in the category of municipal recycling programs with populations between 50,000 and 75,000.