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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.

Fall yard care

Fall yard care

That swish and crunch of autumn leaves underfoot is the sound of opportunity. Mulching leaves and composting yard materials allow residents to protect the state's air quality and public health, reduce costs for local governments and households and relieve communities and the environment of the hazards of burning. A growing number of communities have local rules in place that further restrict or completely prohibit burning yard materials.

Using leaves for mulch and compost can also enrich the health of lawns and gardens, save money on fertilizer and save municipalities money on yard waste collection. Try one of the following easy methods to manage leaves, branches, grass clippings and other yard trimmings.

Home composting

If you would rather compost your leaves, there are many easy structures you can build to start a compost pile. Be sure to maintain a mix of "browns" (fallen leaves, dead plants, coffee grounds and small branches) and "greens" (grass clippings, green plants and food scraps). Finished compost can be sprinkled into lawn soil or used in a garden to provide organic material and nutrients. Ultimately, this builds soil organic content and reduces the need for fertilizers.

Mulching leaves in place

Leaves are rich in carbon, phosphorus and potassium – all essential nutrients needed by plants, including turf grasses. Mow leaves along with the grass during fall and leave the finely chopped material on your lawn. Another option is to rake up the leaf pieces and use them as winter ground cover for gardens and around trees and shrubs. This will help insulate plants and protect them from winter freeze damage.

Keep leaves handy for next season

Dry leaves keep well in plastic bags. Many people keep a few bags of leaves from the fall to add "browns" to their compost piles throughout the year. You can also use your stored leaves for mulch. In the spring, spread them on your garden and around trees and shrubs to save on the cost of buying new mulch.


Green your Halloween

Make a commitment to celebrate a "green" Halloween this year and reduce your impact on the environment. The celebrations traditionally associated with the holiday can create extra waste and pollution, and alternative options make for a more creative and family-friendly event. These tips will help you to reduce, reuse and recycle this Halloween season.

Scarecrow decorations

Save money and resources by using the same decorations year after year.

Get creative with decorations

Use natural Halloween decorations like gourds, pumpkins and cornstalks, or get together with family and friends to create your own. Use recycled paper to make window decorations like spiders, pumpkins or witches' hats. Cut paper grocery bags into Halloween lanterns, or paint them white for ghostly effects. Make a graveyard scene with paper tombstones and spooky trees. After Halloween, send your decorations on for another round of recycling.

DIY or thrift your costume

Instead of buying a Halloween costume that you or your children will wear once and throw away, test your creativity and create a costume from items you already have around the house. You can also find inexpensive costumes and supplies from thrift stores or yard sales. Some parents organize costume trades, where kids choose from available, reused costumes. Once your kids are done with this year's disguise, pass the favor on and donate their old costumes for someone else to enjoy.

Trick-or-treat with a reusable bag

When your family goes trick-or-treating this Halloween, carry reusable bags or containers that don't need to be thrown out after use. Cloth or canvas bags, or even pillowcases, are terrific eco-friendly choices to paper or plastic bags, or molded plastic jack-o-lanterns.

Seasonal gourds

Gourds make great natural Halloween decorations and can be placed in the compost after the season is over.


If you don't already compost, Halloween is a great time to start. You can add post-Halloween jack-o-lanterns to your compost bin, along with fallen leaves, food scraps and other organic yard and household waste. See composting at home for more tips on how to begin composting.

Walk, don't drive

If possible, stick close to home this Halloween and walk from house to house instead of driving to reduce your fuel use and air pollution.

Fall sports

Green tips for athletes and fans

basketball, soccer ball, football, baseball glove and ball

Whether on the field or in the stands, athletes and fans can get active by reducing, reusing and recycling. Using hand-me-downs and carpooling are just the beginning of the ways your team can pitch in. A few simple steps can help cut sports' carbon footprint and ensure that everybody wins in the long run.

Recycling opportunities at sporting venues

special event recycling binLook for and use recycling bins at special events.

The easiest way fans can reduce waste is often the most commonly overlooked. Fans at any event can look for and use recycling bins in public areas for items like plastic beverage bottles and aluminum cans. Be sure to check what can and cannot be put into the recycling bins.

If you are hosting a sporting event or are in charge of an event venue, you can point people in the right direction. Be sure to place trash and recycling bins in easily accessible, visible locations where visitors will be able to see and use them. You can also work with vendors to make sure there is recycling for cardboard packaging.

Sporting goods and equipment

Lots of athletes, teams and families already avoid waste by buying from sports resale shops. When you do buy new or packaged equipment, you can also reuse or recycle plastic film and cardboard packaging. You can also recycle old athletic shoes through programs like ShoeBox Recycling-and Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe. Re-purpose old equipment, like tennis balls, for dog toys and other around-the-house craft projects.

Snacks and water

Lots of teams fuel up on snacks like apples and oranges that are entirely biodegradable. You can save cores, peels and rinds for backyard composting. Also, you can rehydrate with reusable water bottles instead of disposable cups and clean your bottles regularly so that they last longer.

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.