Fund For Lake Michigan

Living Lake Friendly

Lake Friendly Certified Businesses Open During COVID-19

Erin Keleske–Imagine you’ve come home from vacation to find a pipe has burst and your kitchen is flooded. Water is everywhere and it continues to flow. Do you reach for a mop and clean up the mess? Of course not– first you turn off the tap. 

This is the philosophy underpinning Plastic-Free MKE, a new coalition of environmental groups and nonprofits, government agencies, local businesses, and community advocates all dedicated to reducing our collective consumption of single-use plastics and creating a “Lake Friendly” community. 

With support from the Fund for Lake Michigan, Plastic-Free MKE’s Lake Friendly Certification program has helped 22 businesses and counting ditch their wasteful practices and make the switch to reusable, compostable, and recyclable serviceware. And thanks to an all-star team of dedicated volunteers, these numbers just keep growing as word spreads about the harmful effects of plastic pollution in our environment, our bodies, and our communities. 

It all began with a chance meeting during a tour of the Milwaukee Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) that sparked new connections among community members who would later become the group’s founders. There, they discussed concerning statistics about a complex problem and decided to take action.

Nationally, only 9% of what can be recycled actually makes its way to facilities like the MRF, where it is often mixed with improperly “wish-cycled” items. The rest is destined for landfills or worse– joins the approximately 22 million pounds of plastic that enters the Great Lakes each year. 

These early conversations unknowingly catalyzed a community-wide movement that has grown rapidly since its inception. Newcomers and eco-veterans alike commonly pack the public meetings at the Urban Ecology Center. Early partnerships with Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the City of Milwaukee blossomed into a coalition of environmental organizations collaborating and sharing resources to support the mission.

As the group’s members like to say, “it’s not about one person doing zero-waste perfectly; it’s about many people pledging to do it imperfectly.” Plastic-Free MKE has become a symbol for positive community building and collective learning, in helping your neighbor make small steps towards big change. 

You can take your first step by pledging to reduce your plastic at, or by following Plastic-Free MKE’s Facebook and Instagram (@plasticfreemke) for more information about upcoming webinars, Facebook watch parties, and virtual meetings.