Get LESS for the Holidays!

‘Tis the season for gift-giving, holiday parties, and family celebrations!  If you’re looking for ways to green up this season, consider these ideas to reduce the amount of trash you make.


Earth-friendly gifts:

  • Give an experience. Buy a gift certificate for a class or event that you know they’ll love.
  • Make coupons for loved ones that they can cash in for a lunch on you, chores around the house, or other favors they would appreciate.
  • Fix something up, something that a loved one still have but are unable to use—sharpen their ice skates or fix a flat tire on their bike.
  • If buying new, look for gifts and gift-wrap that are environmentally-friendly, made from recycled products, or that can be reused.
  • Use old books, maps, magazines or comics to wrap the gifts you give. This is a great way to personalize–pick a map or magazine that will mean something special to the person you’re giving it to.

Reducing waste at holiday parties:

  • When hosting, use reusable serving ware rather than plastics or paper.  If you don’t have enough reusable service ware, borrow from friends or family.
  • Provide recycling receptacles in obvious places for your guests to use.
  • Send online invitations instead of using paper invites. Many websites that offer these “e-invitation” services are free and are useful for tracking RSVPs and sending reminders, which help to make party planning easier!
  • Save boxes, packing material, wrapping paper, bows, and gift bags for future use.
  • When attending a party, ask for recycling options.

Keep recycling even after the holidays: recycle your live tree! Some communities make discarded holiday trees into mulch for use in community parks, or chip and use them as fuel. Visit the Christmas Trees & Holiday Decorations page, our quick tips on No-Waste Holidays from RethinkRecycling, or contact your county or waste hauler for more information. 

Make the most use of the items you and your loved ones already have so that you use less, buy less, and save more! Give gifts of time and effort and reduce the amount of waste created this holiday season!



Consider CFLs as Daylight Savings Time ends!

Many of us use the Daylight Savings Time changes to remind us to do minor maintenance checks around the house like changing batteries and testing smoke detectors. This November, consider replacing your burned out incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent light bulbs.

Using fluorescent light bulbs makes good sense—you save money on your electric bill, help protect the environment by reducing energy use, and they last longer (making them ideal for those hard-to-reach fixtures!). Lighting accounts for about 20 percent of the average home’s electric bill. An Energy Star compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb will produce the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb, but it will also:

  • Use about 75 percent less energy,
  • Last up to 10 times longer,
  • Save an average of $30 in electricity costs over its lifetime,
  • Prevent the release of more than 450 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

And remember, when your fluorescent bulbs burn out—recycle them!  There is a small amount of mercury in each bulb and it is against the law to throw them in the trash, whether intact or broken.

A number of hardware stores and fluorescent bulb retailers collect them for recycling, and your Washington County collects them at the county Household Hazardous Waste Drop-off Site. To learn more about fluorescent and other types of bulbs and to find out where you can recycle yours, visit our cfl page.

Join the Recycling Revolution at your Business

One of the easiest ways businesses can be eco-friendly is often overlooked: recycling.  And the good news is that business recycling just got easier. has developed a new step-by-step guide to help you design a program that is tailored to meet the needs of your business. If your business has already established a program, look here for ideas on how to improve or expand your program.

The guide includes instruction on getting your program organized, reducing waste, increasing recycling and how to keep your program running strong.  We have tips for employees and management, links to other resources, and case studies from companies like yours who have already joined the recycling revolution.

Check out our 5-Step Guide and read more about how your business could save money and the environment through waste reduction and recycling.

Recycle Your Appliances

Did you know that discarded appliances are second only to automobiles as a top source of recycled metals?  Besides being an excellent source for recycled metals, most appliances contain hazardous materials, so they need to be disposed of properly. Minnesota law requires that all major appliances be either reused or recycled–it’s illegal to put them with your garbage.

While they can be big and bulky, there are many options for recycling appliances in the Twin Cities metro area.

If your appliance is still in working condition, consider posting it online on an online sale or materials exchange site to connect with someone who could use it, or contact a local charity to ask about donating it.

If your appliance no longer works, many haulers provide curbside pick-up for appliances, or there are appliance-recycling options at some county drop-off facilities. There are also many waste facilities and recycling companies in the metro area that accept appliances for recycling. Several offer pick-up services for appliances.

For information on specific locations near you, or to learn more about disposing of your appliances, visit our appliances page.

Educational Resources Available

As the summer comes to an end, many of us are focused on back-to-school efforts.  Whether you’re a parent, student, teacher, or community leader, Rethink Recycling has tools for you to educate and inspire about waste reduction and recycling.

We now feature the new Community Education Toolkit, an educational resource and guide for groups and schools throughout the Twin Cities. This new toolkit will help to inspire, educate, and actively engage others to recycle and reuse more, reduce waste and toxicity, compost yard and food waste, and plan green events.  The Community Education Toolkit includes chapters on these topics:

• Reduce & Reuse: Learn why and how to reduce waste and reuse items, including packaging, donation and junk mail.

• Toxicity Reduction: Learn about reducing your exposure to hazardous chemicals, including a recipe for homemade nontoxic household cleaner.

• Recycling: Learn why and how to recycle more, including tips and recycling games.

• Organics Management: Learn about managing organic waste, including backyard and worm composting.

• Green Your Event: Learn how to plan a greener event, including shopping and gift-giving tips.

• Green Office Resources: Learn about reducing waste in the workplace, including donation, recycling and greener supplies.

Designed for groups of any size, age, or composition, everyone will be able to find helpful tips and instructions to implement a waste management activity or program. Visit the Education & Resources page to view and download all the toolkits, as well as other educational information and links to your County’s resources.

Reduce, reuse, recycle—and share!  Share the importance of waste reduction and recycling with others!  For tools to help you, or to learn more about recycling and environmental education, visit

Summer Fun Recycling

While many of us have set up great recycling stations in our homes, summer travels and events may have us wondering how to keep our recycling out of the trash bins elsewhere.

If you are hosting an event like a summer barbeque, block party, even a wedding, there are many options for bringing recycling to your event. A small event can be served by simple brown grocery bags or recycling bins placed near the trash cans. When hosting a larger event, consider borrowing or renting recycling bins (contact your county or city recycling coordinator for options in your area).

Another big challenge for summer recycling is what to do while you’re actually on the road. Some parks, rest stops, or other public places have recycling receptacles, but unless you already know they will be there, consider packing an extra bag for your empty soda cans and water bottles, then hang onto it until you get to recycling bins.

Recycling while away from home can become tricky, but a little planning can go a long way towards recycling materials instead of trashing them. To learn more about recycling on the go, click here.

Smart Home Remodeling

Remodeling your home can be a busy time.  It’s also a time when your decisions about everyday items can have a big impact on the environment.

Unwanted paint, stain and varnish can be common disposal problems from remodeling and home-improvement projects. These items need to be disposed of properly and don’t belong in the trash.

Oil-Based Paint, Stain and Varnish

Oil-based paint, stain and varnish contain hazardous ingredients. Do not put these items in the trash and do not mix them with latex paint. Take leftover oil-based paint, stain and varnish to your Washington County Environmental Center.

Latex Paint

The best option is to use your leftover paint, or find someone who can. If you can’t use it up, you can bring in your latex paint to Washington County Environmental Center. If you have a small amount of latex paint that has completely dried out, you can place it in the trash with the lid off.

What You Can Do

  • Always measure rooms and buy only the quantity you need.  Measure twice, buy once!
  • Don’t let latex paint freeze.  Store paint indoors, above 40° F.
  • Don’t mix different paint or containers of paint together for storage, disposal or recycling.  Keep it in the original container.


Carpet is another common material that gets thrown in the trash during the remodeling process. If you have used, unwanted carpet, consider using it in another place like your car, truck, boat, fishing house, cabin, or utility room.  You could also list it online for others who may have a use for it.  If you cannot find another use for your unwanted carpet, you could recycle it.  Check out the carpets page for more information.

Other Materials

It is important to remember to do everything you can to reduce the amount of waste you produce, as well as reuse and recycle what you can.

Reuse: There are a number of opportunities in the Twin Cities for you to donate your old fixtures and building materials for others to use in their projects. You can also shop at these places for used materials to incorporate into your remodel plans. Do a simple Internet search for “building materials reuse” to find options in your area.

Recycle: Construction projects tend to create a lot of packaging waste; when you’re done with those cardboard boxes be sure to recycle them! You can flatten and stack cardboard boxes for curbside pick-up or take them to a location that accepts cardboard for recycling.

Visit our residential section to find ways to reuse or recycle other packaging and materials, as well as information about waste reduction, reuse and recycling, and to find disposal options near you.

Disposing of Unwanted Medicines

There are increasingly more options for disposing of medicines in the Twin Cities. Many counties and local law enforcement agencies have installed drop boxes or are organizing collection events to give residents the opportunity to properly and safely dispose of unwanted, unused and expired medicines. The permanent disposal site in Washington County is at the Law Enforcement Center in Stillwater. Programs typically accept all medicines from households, including prescription, over-the-counter and pet medicines.

Properly disposing of medicines is important to prevent abuse or poisoning and protect the environment. Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem, especially among teens, and accidental poisonings from medicines are on the rise. Medicines flushed down the drain or disposed of in the trash can pollute bodies of water, harm wildlife and end up in drinking water supplies.

In addition to properly disposing of medicines, looking for ways to reduce waste medicines is important.  Use all antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor, and purchase only as much over-the-counter medication as you can reasonably use before the expiration date. For example, think twice before buying a bottle of 500 aspirin just because it’s cheaper, unless you will use them all.

To learn more about medicine disposal, click here.

Recycling Providers Accept More for Recycling

Many Twin Cities recycling service providers are now accepting more materials as new markets for recyclable materials have become available. The new items that you are able to recycle will depend on your recycling service provider, so you should check with them to be certain what you can and cannot recycle.

Things that can now be recycled in most area curbside recycling programs include:

Paper: Mail, magazines, newspaper, boxes, cardboard

Cartons: Milk cartons, juice boxes, soup cartons

Plastic: Bottles, jugs

  • Cups, containers and lids are also now recyclable in many areas – check with your service provider

Metal: Food and beverage cans

Glass: Bottles and jars

New technologies, growing markets and new products made from recycled materials are expanding the types of things we can recycle at the curb. But not all recycling facilities are equipped to handle the new recyclables, so what you can and cannot put in your curbside recycling bin depends on where your hauler takes it.

Recycling markets are rapidly growing in the Twin Cities area, so the materials collected through residential curbside recycling programs are subject to change. Stay tuned!

For detailed information on materials currently accepted in your area, how the materials should be sorted, and when they will be picked up, call your city recycling coordinator or your recycling service provider.  You can also learn more by visiting our Recycling 101 page.

Spring Prep for Successful Composting

 Spring is here and it’s time to get ready for regular composting again. Composting allows us to turn kitchen scraps, grass, leaves and other yard wastes into a highly desirable, organic, soil-like material.

Whether you have an established compost bin or are ready to start for the first time, here are some guidelines to remember to keep your bin composting successfully:

  • Consider your compost container: A simple pile in your yard will work just fine, but a bin or container will help the compost pile retain heat and moisture and will look neater than a simple pile. You can build a bin with scrap lumber, old pallets, fencing, or concrete blocks. Or, you can buy a compost bin at local garden centers, hardware stores, or your county compost bin sale.
  • Choose the right location: Compost bins should be partially shaded and at least two feet from your house, garage, or fences.
  • The Right Ingredients: Keep the ratio of ingredients you add to three parts brown to one part green. “Browns” are carbon-rich materials, including dried grasses or leaves, straw, woodchips, twigs, sawdust or dead plants. “Greens” are nitrogen-rich materials like green leaves or grass, coffee grounds, tea bags, plant trimmings, and fruit and vegetable scraps.
  • Air Circulation: Your compost pile needs air to thrive. Keep air circulating by turning the pile with a shovel regularly.
  • Moisture: Compost piles also need water.  To test your pile, pick up a handful of the mixture—if water drips out, that’s too much water, if the material falls to pieces when you pick it up, it’s too dry. Ideally, the mixture will stay in a clump for a few seconds before breaking apart.

It’s recommended that you contact your city recycling coordinator for composting requirements before starting a compost pile. For Washington County residents:

Also check out these other composting options. Happy Spring Composting!


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