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Recycling and waste reduction for all seasons

We are lucky enough to live with four beautiful seasons here in Wisconsin, and each one presents new opportunities for us to reduce our impact. Look through the activities below to learn about things you can do each season to reduce waste and recycle more.

Spring cleaning

Reduce, reuse and recycle during spring cleaning

A woman cleans a bathroom mirror.Spring cleaners can use scraps of old clothing and linens as wash rags for some household chores, reusing old materials and reducing paper waste.

Spring cleaning offers a great opportunity to declutter, reduce waste and safely manage unwanted items. Tackling junk drawers and closets and recycling or discovering another use for items saves resources and has a positive impact on the environment.

Items to recycle, donate or sell

Learning what can be recycled, donated or sold is a great first step to decluttering. In Wisconsin, certain items are banned from landfills and incinerators, which means they can’t go into the trash. Some banned materials including plastic, glass and metal containers, paper and cardboard belong in curbside recycling bin. Other banned items, such as electronics and large appliances, must be taken or sent to a collection site when they reach the end of their useful life.

There are many other items, including plastic bags, light strings and batteries, that households can choose to recycle by taking them to a drop-off site. Gently used clothing, books, furniture and many other items can be donated or sold for reuse by others.

Chemicals and other household hazardous waste

Another common spring cleaning task is getting rid of unused chemicals and other household hazardous waste in the home, storage shed or garage. Using up a known product is often the simplest solution. Unknown substances should be taken to a household hazardous waste collection site or event. Clean Sweep events provide an opportunity to safely dispose of household hazardous waste, and they usually occur during the spring and through the fall.

Household pharmaceuticals and sharps

Taking drugs to a collection site instead of flushing them down a drain ensures they stay out of the environment. The Wisconsin Department of Justice hosts a spring Drug Take Back Day, which includes hundreds of collection sites where Wisconsin residents can safely dispose of controlled and uncontrolled substances, over-the-counter medications, ointments, patches, creams, non-aerosol sprays, vials and pet medications.

Assorted pharmaceutical containersWisconsin Clean Sweep events collect expired and unwanted prescription drugs.

Need to get rid of sharps like needles, lancets and syringes? The DNR has information on how to properly manage sharps and an interactive map of sharps collection stations.

Spring yard care

Once the snow melts away, spring cleaning often extends to the yard. Some households choose to burn yard materials and household rubbish. Burning is regulated at the state, and in some cases, local level. Many household items are not safe to burn and can cause harm to humans and the environment. The DNR’s Can I burn? tool helps check if a burn follows state regulations.

Spring also provides an opportunity to start composting in the yard or through a community composting site. Finished compost helps restore or enhance soil and generating compost at home is a cheaper alternative to buying soil additives from the store.

Where to take items

There are several resources that can help identify a location or program that takes unwanted items that can’t go in the curbside recycling bin. Local recycling program contacts can help determine if there is a local drop-off site or collection event.

There are collection sites or mail-back options for different household items around the state. There may be a fee depending on the item and the collection site.

Green moving

Green your move

Whether it's the big apartment switchover in a college town or a job opportunity that sends a family to a new community, moving means dealing with—and often throwing out—a lot of stuff.

Although some waste is to be expected with moving, there are simple steps that can help reduce the amount of stuff thrown away.

Planning your move

A little planning can save a lot of time and money in the long run. Sorting through belongings ahead of a move allows enough time for items to be sold online or through a yard sale, donated or taken to a collection site or event. Contacting donation centers and collection sites can help clarify what can be gotten rid of for free and can help give new life to items that would otherwise be thrown away.

Looking ahead to find a nearby collection event may be the best option for properly recycling or disposing of items such as electronics, appliances or household hazardous waste. Depending on the area of the state, there may not be a year-round collection site nearby.

See the spring cleaning tab for maps and lists of collection sties and mail-back programs.

Many colleges and universities sponsor waste reduction or swap programs during move-out, providing opportunities to recycle carpets, electronics and other large or bulky items. Students can return or sell old textbooks for other students to use and avoid sending them to a landfill.

Community garbage and recycling programs may have special requirements for disposing of large items such as mattresses and furniture. In areas where many people move at once, checking if there is a change in schedule or rules for the big move-out day could help a move go smoother.

Reducing waste during a move

Help keep reusable items of the waste stream.

Reusing boxes from previous moves or asking retailers for used boxes reduces waste and saves money. Moving companies may have reusable materials to secure and protect larger items.

Certain packing materials are more easily recycled than others. Newspaper and cardboard can be used to protect breakable items and are recyclable anywhere in Wisconsin. Styrofoam and packing peanuts can be saved for the next move or given to friends for reuse. Plastic film, bags and wrap as well as Styrofoam are generally not recyclable through curbside recycling services. Clean plastic bags and film can often be dropped off at collection bins at grocery stores. Unwanted Styrofoam will likely have to be thrown in the trash.

When furnishing a new home, some people purchase gently used furniture, plates, silverware and other household items to reduce the need for new materials and save money.

Home remodeling

Home remodeling for residents

Adding a new deck? Slapping on a new coat of paint? Finally, fixing the roof? When improving your home, you can reduce, reuse and recycle, saving money and protecting the environment as well.

Make a plan

Before you begin a house project, consult the DNR's step-by-step checklist for evaluating hazards, keeping your home and family safe and providing recycling and waste disposal options. Although the checklist is geared toward commercial and industrial projects, it still provides helpful information for homeowners.

Conserve paints and stains

An open can of red paint, with a paintbrush

Find uses for leftover paint. Leftover oil-based paints are considered household hazardous waste.

The easiest way to avoid wasting paint is by purchasing only as much as you need for the job. If you have leftover paint, find a use for it in other projects or share it with a neighbor. Paint and stain outdoors with dark colors that will not need excessive cleaning or re-coating over the years.

Dispose of leftover materials safely

Check product labels to see if you are using hazardous materials and be sure to store them safely, reuse them when able and dispose of them properly. Water-based and latex paints are generally non-toxic but should be air-dried (or mixed with an absorbent like kitty litter) until solid before being placed in the trash. Solvent-based or oil-based paints are toxic and flammable and can contaminate drinking water if disposed of improperly. They should be treated as hazardous waste.

Recycle asphalt shingles

A pile of discarded roofing shingles

Used asphalt shingles, like these, can be collected and recycled.

If you are re-roofing a house, you may be able to recycle your asphalt shingles. Check with your roofing contractor to see if they will recycle shingles. Recycled shingles can be used in road repairs and kept out of landfills.

Reuse or donate materials and fixtures

When possible, preserve doors, wood, light and bathroom fixtures, cabinets and other items in good condition that can be reused. Organizations like Habitat ReStore accept these items for reuse in-home and other building projects. Other businesses accept scrap wood, metal, carpeting and other products for recycling.