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.
Reduce waste and save money this holiday season
Giving and sharing during the holiday season can add up to additional waste with extra gift wrap, extra packaging, disposable dishes, leftover food and more. But we can make small changes in some of our holiday habits to reduce additional waste and save money.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the volume of household waste increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. That's about one million extra tons being sent to landfills across the country each year. Consider these suggestions to prevent that extra waste this holiday season.
Holiday decorations and parties
- Have lights that no longer work? Some online and brick and motor stores accept used light strings for recycling and may even offer a discount on new lights. Check with your local retailer, hardware stores or scrap metal dealers. Check with your local recycling program, too – they may provide a collection site for recycling string lights during the holiday season.
- Replace old string lights with energy-efficient LED lights.
- Use a timer to turn off holiday lights when no one is awake to enjoy them.
- At holiday parties, use washable plates, cups, silverware, tablecloths and napkins instead of disposables. Divide leftovers in reusable containers among guests so extra food is eaten and not wasted.
Gift-giving and wrapping
- Give your family and friends state park or trail passes, gift cards for a lunch out, or tickets to a concert or sports game. Giving experiences, rather than things, creates memories that last and creates much less waste.
- Look for gifts with little or no packaging, or packaging that can be easily recycled or reused.
- Bring your own reusable bags when you go out to shop.
- Look for presents that are locally produced. In general, local products reduce energy costs and greenhouse gases because they don't need to be shipped long distances.
- Wrap gifts in Sunday comics or old maps. Reuse brown paper bags from the grocery store as gift wrap dressed up with colorful ribbons or bows.
- Buy gifts that will last and can be used over and over again. Avoid disposable items.
- Look for rechargeable batteries for holiday gifts requiring battery power.
- Buy items made with recycled materials.
- Save bows, gift boxes and gift bags that can be used again. Recycle the boxes that are torn or no longer usable.
- Separate out wrapping paper and gift bags strictly made of paper and without glitter, foil and other contaminants. Some recycling programs with take paper wrapping paper and bags for recycling. Remember to remove strings from bags so they don't tangle in recycling equipment.
- For unrecyclable wrapping paper that you don't plan to reuse, composting and landfilling are always encouraged over burning. The dyes, inks and coatings used in paper have changed over time and can release toxins when burned. Learn more about the environmental and health impacts of open burning.
- Recycle paper greeting cards and envelopes. Or get creative and make the cards into post cards or gift tags for next year.
- Put cut trees in a corner of the yard to provide winter cover for rabbits and birds. In the spring, chip the tree and use it for mulch.
- If you received new electronics, recycle your old ones! Visit the DNR's E-Cycle Wisconsin program to learn more.
For additional ideas that kids can do to help green the holidays, visit EEK! Environmental Education for Kids! Trash to Treasures for the Holidays.
Green your move
Whether it's the big apartment switchover in a college town or a job opportunity that sends your 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 you can take to make your move greener. Review our checklist to see what you can do!
- Before moving week rolls around, have a plan to pack and organize what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of. Approaching moving with a plan will give you more time to think about what to throw away, what to reuse and what to recycle.
- If you know your moving date well in advance, consider having a rummage sale or donating items you don't want. This way you can reduce what you have to deal with at the last minute.
- Consider reusing boxes from previous moves or boxes from businesses. Many retailers will offer you their used boxes if you ask. Similarly, cloth bags, laundry baskets and large plastic containers are an easy, reusable way to get you from one home to another. If you're using a moving company, it may have reusable materials you can use, especially to protect larger items.
- In addition to containers, look for recyclable or reusable options for packing fragile items. Use newspapers to wrap dishes or T-shirts to wrap pictures and breakables. If you do use bubble wrap or Styrofoam, save it after your move to give to friends or reuse yourself.
- Cleaning supplies can be taken with you or left to new tenants. Ask your landlord about their policy on leaving reusable supplies for future tenants.
- Donate items you don't want to take with you to thrift stores, charities or other organizations in your community. Donating keeps your old belongings out of the trash loop and helps those in need. Most organizations accept donations of clothes, household goods, furniture and some electronics. Look for charities such as Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul and contact them in advance so you know what they accept. You can also contact your college/university or community recycling program to see if they have set up any special donation sites.
- In addition to a charitable donation, look for free "stuff exchange" sites that some communities operate, or use print or Internet classified ads to sell more valuable items.
- When furnishing your new home, consider purchasing used furniture, plates, silverware, etc. By purchasing secondhand, you are reducing the need for new materials and saving money!
- If items are no longer in usable condition, recycle them. Recycling is available throughout Wisconsin for many plastics, paper, glass and metal items. Some communities and retailers have drop-off sites for recycling materials you can't throw in your usual bin, such as plastic plant pots and running shoes. For more information on what can be recycled in your community and where to recycle other materials, see Recycle More Wisconsin.
- Recycle old electronics like computers, printers and cell phones. E-Cycle Wisconsin provides a list of collection locations across the state . See a list of collection sites and more information on E-Cycle Wisconsin.
- If you are getting rid of any large appliances, check with your local recycling program to find out if you need a special permit or pick-up registration for the appliance to be recycled.
- Use caution when disposing of household hazardous wastes. Materials like paint, chemical cleaners, some electronics and others need to be disposed of properly to prevent damage to your health or those around you.
- If you are performing any demolition or construction on your home before moving, look into household reuse and recycling programs in your area. Organizations such as Habitat ReStore accept doors, wood, light and bathroom fixtures, cabinets and many other items in good condition that can be reused. Other businesses or programs accept scrap wood, metal, parts, carpeting and other products for recycling. If you're buying new products or materials, ask your retailer about recycling and reuse options or contact your local recycling program.
- Check with your community's garbage program to see if there are special requirements for disposing of large items (such as mattresses and furniture). If you are in a college neighborhood or other area where a large number of people are moving at once, check with your community garbage collection program to see if there are special collections or rules for the big move-out day.
- See Recycling and composting for more information on the proper disposal of certain materials.
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.
- Planning Your Demolition or Renovation Project,
- Planificación de Su Proyecto de Demolición o Renovación
- More information on construction, demolition and renovation
Conserve paints and stains
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
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.