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Spring is a great time to reduce, reuse and recycle.
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- For more information, contact:
- Angela Carey
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 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 reduce waste, save money and make a positive impact on the environment. As the weather warms up, you can put reuse and recycling into action with some of the ideas below.
Cleaning out the house, apartment, basement or garage
There are several ways to take clutter around the house and make sure it is reused. You can donate gently used clothing, appliances and home construction materials, swap books, games and outfits with friends and coworkers or, if you need extra cash, set all these items aside and have a yard sale.
Making a recycling pile
When cleaning, you can make a "to recycle" pile where you can collect all recyclables, including retired electronics, old magazines, junk mail, cardboard boxes and other items. You can also contact your local recycling program to see what larger items you may be able to bring to a drop-off for recycling, such as Styrofoam packaging, appliances, large cardboard boxes and yard debris.
Wisconsin Clean Sweep events collect expired and unwanted prescription drugs.
Many unwanted household chemicals or leftover prescription drugs can be collected or exchanged at community collection or exchange points. To find collection events in your area, you can consult the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's Wisconsin Clean Sweep program.
As the school year ends
Old crayons can be saved for future use or melted down for craft projects.
Those school supplies leftover at the end of May will still be good in the fall! In the last week of classes, families and students can sort out reusable supplies and store them for the next school year, or for summer projects at home. They can also hold onto old assignments to create a ready supply of scrap paper for use around the home, cut into halves or quarters for a variety of sizes.
Reusing old backpacks and lunchboxes
The key to making sure backpacks and lunchboxes stay in good shape over the summer is a good cleaning at the end of the school year. Backpacks clean best with warm water and a mild dish soap before being set out to air dry. You can keep lunchboxes odor-free with a sprinkle of baking soda or by filling them with crumpled newspaper until they are ready to use. If your backpacks or lunchboxes are too worn out to be used next school year, you can find other uses for them, such as carrying garden supplies or beach toys.
Old pencil cases to can be reused to organize junk drawers, store kids' jewelry or hold small items when packing for a trip.
Many schools sponsor waste reduction programs during move-out. Students and families can check school websites for opportunities to recycle carpets, electronics and other large or bulky items. They can also return or sell old textbooks for other students to use and avoid sending them to a landfill.
Green tips for athletes and fans
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 spring sports' carbon footprint and ensure that everybody wins in the long run.
Sporting goods and equipment
Lots of athletes, teams and families already avoid waste by buying from sports resale shops, but when you do buy new or packaged equipment you can also reuse or recycle plastic film and cardboard packaging. If you bike or skateboard to games or practice, you can check to see if your local bike seller or resale shop recycles bikes or parts. You can also recycle old athletic shoes through programs like ShoeBox Recycling and Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe, or 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 completely 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.
Making a team pledge
Your team might consider making a group pledge to the local environment by taking on a recycling challenge, adopting a local park or highway or committing to some other sustainable practice as a group. It's a fun way to promote the team, build team spirit and help keep your home field clean!
Spring sports can mean loads of laundry. Use an eco-friendly or concentrated detergent, wash clothes in cold water when you can and line dry when possible. Each of these choices cut your laundry's energy costs.
Look for and use recycling bins at special events.
Many sporting event vendors offer beverages sold in reusable souvenir cups. Purchasing beverages in these cups and reusing them at the event or at home cuts down on waste and is a good way to show your team pride.
The easiest way fans can reduce their waste is often the most commonly overlooked one. Fans at any event can look for and use recycling bins in public areas. 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. The DNR offers tips on how to promote recycling and waste reduction at your event.
Green your move
There are many ways to avoid overflowing garbage cans - reduce, reuse, recycle and donate.
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 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 will be 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. See the Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory for a searchable list of recyclable materials and locations.
- 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 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 Planning Your Demolition or Renovation Project, a 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. It is also available in Spanish. Additional information can be found on the DNR's construction and demolition pages.
Find uses for leftover paint. Leftover oil-based paints are considered a household hazardous waste.
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 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 leftovers 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 household hazardous waste.
The DNR's Household HazWaste Management Guide is an easy reference sheet for determining how to dispose of various household products. Contact your local collection sites to learn whether they accept paints, solvents, stains and household cleaning products. You can also use the program search tool at the Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center.
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 home 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. See the Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory for a searchable list of recyclable materials and drop-off locations.
Recycle home debris
Sorting home debris into piles like this one makes it easier to collect and recycle.
When building up or breaking down, create a designated "to recycle" pile where you can collect wood, plastics, glass and metal items. Some communities and retailers have drop-off sites for recycling materials not collected with general curbside service. For more information on what can be recycled in your community, and where to recycle other materials, see Recycle More Wisconsin or the Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory.
Furnishing the addition
The Green Building Products Guide presents an easy way to find reused and recycled building materials for your project. When furnishing your new addition, consider purchasing used furniture and other furnishings. By purchasing secondhand, you are reducing the need for new materials and saving money!
Tailgating and cooking out
Wisconsin tailgates and cookouts are great opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle.
For Wisconsin sports fans, tailgating and grilling out are a matter of pride. Whatever your team's colors, you can take a few simple steps to make sure your tailgate remains green.
Buy supplies in bulk
Buying drinks and snacks in bulk reduces packaging waste. Clean cardboard and plastic film around beverage cases are recyclable.
Use reusable dishware
Bringing reusable dinnerware and cloth napkins to a tailgate cuts down on the amount of waste that has to go to a landfill. People can bring their own reusable plates, cups and containers. You can also often find low-cost, durable dishware for tailgating at a local thrift shop. Having a sealable container to hold dirty dishes while you enjoy the game will keep your vehicle clean.
At the grill, using a chimney starter and lump charcoal or all-natural briquettes cuts down on air pollutants. An electric grill does, too.
Bring your own bags
Bring separate bags for collecting trash and recycling. Collect all of your recyclables as you eat and drop the bags off at the public recycle bins on your way to the stands or back home. This makes sure you recycle everything you can while avoiding the need for multiple trips. If there are no public bins on site, you can save the bagged materials easily and recycle them at home.
Place and label bins clearly
Pairing recycling containers with and next to trash bins reduces waste and litter at public events. Photo by Amanda Haffele.
If you are hosting a sporting event or are in charge of an event venue, be sure to place trash and recycling bins in easily accessible, visible locations where visitors will be able to see and use them. The DNR offers tips on how to promote recycling and waste reduction at your event and free signs for labeling your recycling bins.
- Recycling away from home (scroll down for links to free signs)
- Recycling and Waste Reduction at Your Special Event
Make recycling part of the fun
For larger groups, especially those involving kids, you can turn recycling into a pre-game activity. Put out multiple recycling bags and label them with players' names. Tailgaters can vote on their favorite player by tossing their recyclables into the corresponding bag. This gives people an extra reason to recycle and makes final clean-up easy.
Organize a car pool
Organizing a car pool to the tailgate or cookout site is not only eco-friendly, it also makes finding parking easier and limits the need for multiple designated drivers.
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.
Autumn leaves sparkle in the sunlight.
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.
Mulching leaves returns nutrients to the soil.
Keep leaves handy for next season
Dry leaves keep well in plastic bags, and 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.