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The holidays are a time for giving, but they can also generate so much extra waste. Let's try something different this year.

Let's have a zero or low waste holiday season - and also recycle as much waste that you do generate.

Here are some tips on how to enjoy the holiday season without generating lots of waste.

Ski Lift
Don't Give Stuff, Give an Experience
  • Give tickets to a play, movie or sporting event
  • Gift certificates for a massage, dinner, health club membership or spa treatment are always popular
  • Give a certificate for a cooking or foreign language class
  • Offer a service such as baby sitting, breakfast in bed, driveway shoveling, or a piano lesson
  • Make a charitable donation in the recipient's name or give a membership to a museum, environmental or non-profit organization.
  • In Wisconsin everyone can use a winter car wash. Give a gift certificate for one of those.

Making Cookies
Don't Buy Gifts, Make Them
  • Fresh baked cookies or bread, everybody likes homemade goodies.
  • Make a calendar or a handmade book from photos and recycled paper
  • Give home made Christmas ornaments made from waste materials

Wrap with Reusable Materials
  • Use baskets, glass jars, cookie tins, or gift bags that can be used over and over again.
  • Decorate an old box
  • Make the wrapping part of the gift by personalizing it.
  • Reuse wrapping paper, tissue paper, gift bags, etc. from last year
  • Wrap gifts in colorful squares of old fabric

Wrapping Cloth
Make Gift Wrap, Cards and Gift Tags
  • Use comics, old maps, old calendar photos, or magazines
  • Decorate newsprint, scrap paper or leftover tissue paper with rubber stamps, paint or potato-stamps
  • Grandparents love gift wrap that has pictures drawn by their grandchildren. Have your kids design wrapping paper using brown paper bags and crayons
  • Use old gift wrap and other materials to make tags, cards and envelopes


Outside tree

Decorate for the Environment
  • Look for a real tree that you can transplant after the holidays. For more information...
  • Use LED lighting and be sure to recycle your old lights. For more information...
  • Use a timer to turn off lights at the end of the evening.
  • Use decorations that will last a long time
  • Decorate with potted plants that will bring enjoyment after the holidays
  • Decorate with pine cones, dried berries or flowers you collect outside
  • Make decorations from reusable or compostable materials
  • Garland using popcorn and berries
  • Cover fading ornaments in paper mache and paint with bright colors
  • Use old ornaments to make a festive, reusable wreath
  • Cut out fun shapes from cereal boxes to paint and hang on the tree
  • Decorate your tree with old costume jewelry, memorabilia, such as a child's first shoe, items collected on vacation, etc.

Tips for Greener Entertaining
  • Use reusable plates, cutlery, etc. when entertaining
    • Rent dishes and glassware to make your party more elegant and eliminating the need to buy disposable products.
  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper
  • Turn down the heat before the guests arrive.
    • You’ll save energy while the extra body heat of your guests will warm up the room

Phone Call
Phone or E-mail Holiday Greetings and Wishes
  • Call or e-mail invitations to party guests and messages to distant loved ones instead of sending paper invitations & cards

Reduce Mailing Waste
  • Reuse cardboard boxes for mailing gifts.
  • Use air-popped popcorn and newspaper instead of Styrofoam packing chips
  • Save and reuse your bubblewrap
  • Mailing gift certificates or tickets will save on packaging and postage

Give Gifts that promote Environmental Responsibility

Remember, buying gifts locally and those made from local merchants cuts down on the carbon emissions from shipping and keeps money in the local economy.   

And here are some gift ideas as well:

  • A backyard composter or worm composter
  • Reusable food containers, or lunch bags
  • Rechargeable batteries and/or a battery charger
  • Donation to an environmental organization or charity
  • Diaper service
  • Bus pass
  • Madison B-cycle passes
  • Clothing made from unbleached cotton or recycled pop bottles
  • Reusable coffee mugs or drinking water bottles
  • Recycled content stationery, paper products, office products, etc.
  • Environmentally-friendly bath and beauty products

Shopping List
Shop Smart
  • When you go shopping, take your own reusable bags
    • Reusable bags aren't just for the grocery store
  • Plan your shopping in advance to avoid impulse buys.
  • When buying gifts that require batteries buy rechargeable batteries and a battery charger.
  • Avoid purchasing over-packaged goods
  • Look for environmentally-friendly, recyclable or reusable products
  • Choose toys children can grow into
  • Avoid:

    • Single-use items or gifts with a limited life span
    • Cheaply made gifts
    • Non-recyclable and non-reusable items
    • "Trendy" gifts will lose interest in a short time
    • Gifts that cannot be repaired easily if damage

Recycling Cart
Recycle As Much As Possible
You can recycle lots of left over holiday items. Please use these recyclable items and avoid using the non recyclable materials listed below.

You can place the following items in your green recycling cart:

  • Gift boxes
  • Paper pags
  • Wrapping paper (but not foil-type paper)
  • The cardboard tubes from wrapping paper
  • Paper gift tags
  • Paper greeting cards
  • Envelopes
  • Old pots and pans in your green recycling cart along with small metal kitchen appliances and hand held power tools.

Recycle these items at our drop off sites at 1501 W. Badger Rd or 4602 Sycamore Av

  • Styrofoam block (No Peanuts)
  • Holiday lights and other electronics
  • Household batteries
  • Cooking oil


Do not recycle the following:

  • Foil style wrapping paper
  • Tissue paper
  • Ribbon
  • Photo greeting cards