Skip to main content

“Lose A Pound A Week”

The City of Madison’s Waste Reduction Program

Logo: Madison Waste Watchers

In 2020, the Streets Division collected 46,182 tons of trash from the tan carts from our Madison homes.

To dispose of that trash, the City pays $50 per ton to the Dane County Landfill to safely accept and handle this waste

This means Madison taxpayers spent a little more than $2.3 million dollars to get rid of the things that we do not want.

And this number does not include the large items collected that are sent to the landfill, or consider the costs of fuel and labor to haul the material.

And further still - the Streets Division isn't the only entity that handles trash in our city. The University of Wisconsin performs their own trash hauling. Large condo buildings and complexes need to provide private dumpster service, as do businesses.

While the 46,000 tons of trash is a big number - it is just the floor. There are hundreds if not thousands of additional tons of trash produced by our consumption locally that never passes through the Streets Division.

What can we do about it?



Start with a pause and a plan.

The biggest benefit we can have is to create less waste so start with giving yourself a moment to evaluate the trash you make.


  • Keep a log of what you throw away. As the saying goes, you can't measure what you don't know. So to really tackle this problem in your home or office, you have to know what you through away. Having a record of your garbage will let you know what you are getting rid of and help you plan your trash diet.
  • Track how much you throw out. Do this at the same time you track what you are tossing away. Count how many times you take out the trash each week or better yet.  YOu can count the bags you place into your trash cart.  Or, if you want to get more precise, weigh each bag of trash on your bathroom scale. (Or, weigh yourself , then weigh yourself holding the bag of trash and subtract the first weight form the second to get the weight of your trash.) Keep track of your data for two or three weeks to get an idea of how much you are throwing away.
  • Draft a plan for your household based on the data you have collected.



It only makes sense to start any diet, even a trash diet with a discussion about food.

21% of what we send to the landfill is food. And we can stop food waste if we plan, use, create, and scrap



Have a plan and a list when you grocery shop. We've complied a list of helpful tools so you can shop smart to save money and resources.



Once you have a plan, you need to follow through with your recipes.  And be sure to store the food appropriately to lengthen the time you can use it. We have resources to help with this, too.



This is step for our creativity to shine.  Turn leftovers into dazzling new meals. Turn foods just past their prime into new meals.  And we have links to help with that, too.

Freeze your leftovers. Freeze fresh or cooked food if you know you won't be able to use it in time.



Here's the opportunities for composting locallyLearn how to compost at home.



  • Look for containers and packaging that can be recycled, such as cardboard (even better if it is made from post-consumer recycled content).
  • Buy bulk food. You can get nuts, grains, beans and other dry goods in bulk in many places. This way you buy only what you need with a lot less packaging.
  • Avoid buying individually wrapped portions of things like cheese, pudding, and juice.
  • Choose personal products with less packaging from razors, to toothbrushes, to deodorant, and so on.
  • Single serve microwave items like soups are very wasteful. Buy canned soup, put it in a reusable microwave container and then recycle the can.





  • Drink tap water. Bottled water generates thousands of bottles that end up in the landfill, even in progressive communities like Madison. Bottled water also uses considerably more energy as it must be packaged and trucked to the store.
  • Bring your own reusable mug to work, meetings, and conferences. If you work in an office that provides coffee to employees, encourage management to initiate a "bring-your-own-mug" policy.
    • And avoid using single-serve coffee machines as they generate a lot of plastic waste.
  • If you buy beverages while on the road, bring your own mug or container and/or patronize places that provide refillable containers.
  • Travel mugs make great gifts and a nice space for stickers.

Meal Time

  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper. This lends a look of class to your meal and reduces waste.
  • Use real silverware not disposable plastic.
  • Don't use paper plates.

For Cleaning

  • Use reusable sponges and dishcloths rather than paper towels (sponges can be sanitized in a microwave or dishwasher).
  • When possible, choose items that are available in refillable containers (e.g., hand soap, disposable wipes, household cleaners).
  • Use old toothbrushes for cleaning things like bathroom tile.

For Leftovers

  • Reuse plastic containers or glass jars rather than plastic wrap or aluminum foil to store leftovers.
  • Bring your own plastic container with you when you go out to eat.

For Shopping

  • Use cloth shopping bags. Always keep cloth bags in your car or on the doorknob so you have then when you are going shopping.
  • Reuse the clear plastic bags you use to bring home produce from the supermarket. At home, remove the produce and place the empty bags with your canvas bags for your next trip.
  • Reuse brown paper bags, plastic grocery bags, and twist ties.
  • Shop at second hand stores and consignment shops. You can save money and you create a market for reused items.
    • Use online exchanges or rummage sales, too.

More Everyday Reuse Tips

  • Use rechargeable batteries whenever possible.
  • Reuse paper: cut it up and make scratch pads for home, the office, school, or groups; or let children use the backs of used paper to draw. Once paper has been used on both sides, recycle it.
  • Reuse boxes, bubble wrap, and packing "peanuts" for shipping items.
  • Reuse those large brown envelopes by placing blank address stickers over the old addresses.
  • Reuse gift boxes, ribbons, and wrapping paper to wrap future gifts or for arts and crafts projects.
  • If an appliance breaks, consider having it repaired rather than discarding it.
  • Rent, borrow, or share items that you use only occasionally. Family, friends, and neighbors, for example, can share items such as lawn mowers, party-size coffee pots, folding tables, and books.
  • Refill or recharge your printer, copier, and/or fax machine cartridges at home and your office.
  • If you pack a lunch for school or work, use a lunch box instead of paper bags and look for reusable containers for packing your sandwiches and other items.
  • Reuse dairy tubs for storing leftovers instead of purchasing expensive storage containers.

Use Online Exchanges & Donation Opportunities

Don't just throw out the unfashionable, but usable items.

Try to re-sell them through the many online exchanges and or social media networks. There's also several secondhand stores in the area that will accept donations.

And be sure to shop secondhand, too. For the secondhand / reuse economy to thrive we need people to donate and also to shop to keep the circle moving.



The DNR published a statewide waste characterization study.

One of the sites used for the study was the Dane County Landfill.

And drilling down into those specific numbers, we found that around 13% of what goes to the landfill locally could be recycled.

Using 2020 numbers, that's around 6,000 tons of recyclable material we're sending to the landfill by mistake.

Be sure you are following the recycling rules.

Review the list of recyclables to make sure you are recycling all you can, review the list of items that are recycled in Madison to make sure you are not missing something.

Sustain Dane also has a very useful website that can help you recycle better whether you live in Madison or perhaps in a neighboring community within Dane County.


Go Beyond the Green Cart

In addition our curb side program, the City of Madison offers some additional drop-off recycling opportunities.

Also, don't forget about recycling your electronics and batteries.

And, there are also some firms that can recycle or reuse items that the Streets Division cannot.

For example, books, both hard cover and soft cover can be taken to the Madison Recycling Center at 2200 Fish Hatchery Road - (608) 251-2115.

Check the Dane County Disposal Guide for recycling and disposal options. You can check our list of recycling options, too.  And there's always the Recyclopedia, too.


Make recycling a family affair

Involve everyone in the family in recycling - they can help! Talk about what can and can’t be recycled, and have them check to make sure other family members are doing a good job recycling. Post recycling guidelines in a prominent area for easy reference

Make it is easy to recycle

Put your recycling container next to your garbage can. Consider placing recycling containers in other areas of your house where recyclables are generated such as the garage, family room, or home office.

Get Creative

With a little bit of online searching, you can find dozens of tips, hacks, and tricks to creatively reuse old things. The social media site Pinterest is particularly deep on DIY crafts and ways to reuse old items.

There are also very active local social media groups on Facebook, like the Zero Waste Madison and the Buy Nothing groups.


Reduce Your Trash During the Holidays

Holiday Waste Reduction