Fighting the Waste In, Waste Out Habit

Shoes wrapped in plastic, over packagingI try to recycle what I can but there are times I really wish I didn’t get this stuff in the first place. I did a little searching around Madison and found some solutions to the clutter problem.

Phone Books

Fall season in Madison marks the beginning of phone book season. I get at least four books thrown on my doorstep a year; some folks get even more. I didn’t ask for any of them. There is a way out, according to the City of Madison Recycling Department.

Opt out of phone book delivery at the National Yellow Pages Consumer Choice and Opt-out site. You have to register, but once you do, you can opt out of all the Madison area phone books.

Junk Mail

When junk mail hits my mailbox, I often take it right to the recycling bin without even taking it inside my house or I throw into a bag to go back out with recycling later. It’s better, of course, to stop it even before it hits my doorstep.

Most direct mail marketing pieces can be stopped by sending a postcard or letter to:

Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY, 11735-9008

Members of DMA (and most larger businesses are members) are required respect your wishes. That’s some of it.

You may have to deal with individual advertisers by sending them a politely worded request to stop. It might not work all the time, but it’ll certainly help.

Note, however, that some places pay for a list of “all the houses” in a certain zip code. These folks don’t have your address in particular, and the post office can’t go through and remove yours, so you will get some of these no matter what you do. The recycling bin is the quickest solution.

Those Pesky Stopper Shoppers

Shoppers are a most irritating breed of direct mail. Feels like I get one almost every single day! You can call the “shopper” newspaper to ask them to stop delivery. Call (608) 252-6363 or email


Packaging is a big one. In fact, when folks make a real effort to recycle they find excess packaging, especially plastic “blister packs,” makes up most of what’s left. The best way to stop this is to simply not buy it.

Simple in theory, but not always easy. Everything is over packaged. I tried to buy a pair of socks from Walgreens the other day and noticed that the socks were not only wrapped in a paper wrapper, but were also hung by a little plastic hanger that looked perfect for hanging a Barbie doll outfit. Cute, but totally unnecessary.

Awareness is key. Like most shoppers, I’ve been focused on the object of my desire, not what it’s wrapped in. Now, I find by making packaging a factor in my buying decisions I can often make better choices — and I actually cut down on impulse buys as well.

Extra packaging can’t always be avoided, so I don’t hesitate to at least  write to manufacturers and complain, although I’m not really sure they are paying much attention.

Social media may be more effective, so go ahead and tweet, note it in Facebook (I just joined “Stop the Over Packaging” on FB) or leave a polite but pointed review on Amazon or other consumer product sites.

The Brits are ahead of us on this and have a website entirely devoted to exposing the worst offenders and sharing strategies to fight back. Check out the Over Packaging Hall of Shame.

Greenpeace has launched a campaign against Mattel toy packaging featuring Ken, who is breaking up with Barbie because he doesn’t date women who ravage the rain forest with crappy overpackaging. Go, Ken!

The best solution to packaging waste is not to bring it into your home to begin with. I know this is easier said than done in some cases, but the options have gotten a little better over the years.

Carrying it out

Plastic bag recycling is fairly new in Madison. Of course, the best solution is to bring your own cloth bag when buying clothes or other items at area stores. Luckily, no one in this town bats an eye when I hand over my own bag or if I say “no bag, please.” I do love Madison!

Remembering to have those bags on hand is a struggle for me. I did buy some of those folding bags that fit into my pocket or purse. Again, awareness is key.

Food takeout is another point of irritation, but more Madison eateries are using recycled paper clam shells and aluminum foil instead of styrofoam.

I bought a friend who almost always takes part of her meal home a set of metal food containers like the kind they use in Europe and Japan. She admits that remembering to bring them along is a challenge, but says she’s working on that.

Packaging Waste Avoidance Tips

Awareness is half the battle. We’ve grown up with tons of packaging, and it’s only gotten worse over the years. Becoming aware of what we’re buying helps us cut down at the source of the problem.

Buying in bulk is always a good choice. Not always practical, but when it is, it’s worth the extra muscle involved lugging that bigger bag of cat litter up the stairs. Builds character!

Make your own or buy hand made when you can. Now that I make my own laundry soap, I’ve noticed I can buy in bulk in plain cardboard once every two months rather than a big plastic jug every two weeks. Commercially made hand soap bars are wrapped in plastic and then a box. Handmade bar soap at Community Pharmacy comes with a simple tag on raffia or a paper band.

Buy used. Garage sales, Good Will or St. Vinny’s, Craig’s List and Ebay offer great opportunities to save money while bringing only what you want into your home. On Ebay it depends on the seller;  individual sellers offering used items are best.

For more tips, see the city of Madison’s Recycling website.



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