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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.

Back to school

Go back to school green

Back-to-school time is right around the corner for many families. Judging from the number of fliers clogging mailboxes, going back to school means new stuff—notebooks, calculators, clothes, backpacks and more. This year, as you embark on your shopping trips, consider these suggestions for reducing waste as you prepare for the school year ahead.

School supplies
Buy items with recycled content
  • You can reuse many school supplies from year to year. Save and reuse notebooks with paper left in them; folders that are not too battered; and backpacks, binders and calculators.
  • Several programs and organizations accept donated school supplies to send to needy schools around the world. If there are items you can't reuse yourself, consider donating.
  • When buying new school supplies, look for paper and plastic products that contain recycled content. On notebooks, folders and other paper products, look for statements like "made from recycled content" and "30% post-consumer paper."
  • As much as possible, purchase supplies in bulk and with minimal packaging. This keeps materials out of the waste stream and reduces the need for new materials.
Lunches and snacks
  • Instead of plastic or paper bags, use reusable cloth bags and plastic containers. Invest in a reusable plastic or metal container for carrying drinks, rather than purchasing single-use water bottles or juice boxes. This will save you money and reduce waste.
  • Find out if your school has a composting program for food waste, of help get one started.
Clothing, electronics and other supplies
  • Last year's clothes, shoes and backpacks may no longer fit your growing kids. If you have clothing or sporting goods that are in good, usable condition, consider donating them to local thrift stores, charitable organizations or clothing drives. Donating keeps your old belongings out of the trash loop and helps those in need.
  • If you are replacing computers, printers, calculators or other electronics, consider donating or recycling them. Many organizations will accept donations of working electronics. E-Cycle Wisconsin makes recycling electronics easier by providing a list of collection locations across the state for items like computers, printers, cell phones and more. See how to recycle electronics for more information.
Everyone can recycle

Back-to-school season is a great time to talk to your kids and their teachers about the importance of waste reduction and recycling. When you're going through last year's supplies, talk to your child about how to reduce the amount of waste they create, reuse what they can and recycle the rest, and why this is important. Talk to your child's teacher about teaching and using recycling principles in the classroom.

The DNR's Environmental Education for Kids! (EEK!) has potential recycling activities.

Get more information on waste reduction and recycling at school from our Green and Healthy Schools program.


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.


Tailgating and cooking out

Corn and chicken cooking on an open grill
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.

Grill green

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

A collapsible event recycling container paired with a trash bin
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.

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.

Green moving

Green your move

Help keep reusable items of the waste stream.

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.
Help keep reusable items of the waste stream.
  • 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 [exit DNR].
  • 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 [exit DNR] for a searchable list of recyclable materials and locations.
Responsibly dispose
  • 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

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 [PDF], 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 [PDF]. Additional information can be found on the DNR's construction and demolition pages.

Conserve paints and stains

An open can of red paint, with a paintbrush
Find uses for leftover paint. Leftover oil-based paints are considered a 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 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 [PDF] is an easy reference sheet for determining how to dispose of various household products. Contact your local collection sites [PDF] 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 [exit DNR].


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 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 [exit DNR] for a searchable list of recyclable materials and drop-off locations.

Recycle home debris

A pile of scrap drywall
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 [exit DNR] or the Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory [exit DNR].

Furnishing the addition

The Green Building Products Guide [exit DNR] 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!

Last revised: Wednesday August 17 2016