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clipboardKnow What To Buy

The first step to managing waste is to accumulate less stuff in the first place. Your shopping can keep your community cleaner, your family healthier, and your budget going farther. It all starts with reducing waste. Before shopping give reuse and repair some thought. Consider quantity, packaging, and how you take food home. We've put together suggestions to help unleash your creativity — and keep our communities great places to live.

GIFT WRAPPING TIPS: Great Ideas for gift wrapping alternatives

  • Scarves, handkerchiefs, bandannas.
  • Old posters and maps.
  • Pages from a child's coloring book taped together.
  • Newspapers (foreign newspapers are great!).
  • Last year's holiday paper (press with warm iron if wrinkled).
  • Home-sewn cloth bags.
  • Sunday comic pages.
  • A present in a present (for example, cookies in a reusable tin or cookie jar, kitchen gifts in towels or all-purpose cloths).
  • Reusable decorative bags.
  • A "Hollywood Box": individually wrap or decorate the top and bottom of a box with a separate lid. Encourage the recipient to reuse the box.
  • Purchase wrapping paper made from recycled paper.


  • Plan meals wisely and practice portion control.
  • Use reusable dishes, cups, silverware, and napkins; if you don't have enough, ask to borrow reusable tableware from friends or family.
  • Cut up last year's holiday cards and use as place cards.
  • Place easily identifiable recycling containers at your celebration so guests can recycle their pop cans, bottles, etc.
  • Encourage the host or hostess to reuse and recycle bows, wrapping paper, etc.


  • Sometimes, the most treasured gifts we can give are our time, love, and energy. Visit the for some holiday gift ideas that create less waste and more memories.


  • Save packing material, wrapping paper, and tissue paper for reuse.
  • Save bows, ribbon, tags, festive bags and boxes for next year.
  • Recycle your tree! Some communities make discarded holiday trees into mulch for use in community parks. Contact your county or waste hauler for more information.

It's a great time of year to develop a new waste reduction habit. Here are some ideas:

  • Bring a reusable mug to the coffee shop, whether you're staying in or taking it to go.
  • Read the newspaper online.
  • Switch to less toxic cleaning products.
  • Recycle more! In addition to your cans, bottles, and newspapers, don't forget to recycle mixed paper and cardboard curbside.
  • Carry reusable shopping bags. Bring plastic shopping bags back to the store for recycling.

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Packaging is waste waiting to happen. Reduce it the dollar-stretching way — by using self-serve bins and buying in concentrate. You'll lighten your load and ultimately throw away less.

  • Scoop your pasta, fruit, grains and nuts from self-serve bins. Use your own containers when possible. Buy only what you need to avoid throwing out stale or spoiled items.
  • Purchase dish soap and laundry detergents in concentrate forms.

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Instead of buying disposable items, go with containers that are reusable and refillable. You'll throw out less and save money otherwise spent on packaging.

  • Take a reusable coffee mug to work or school. That's a year's worth of paper and polystyrene cups saved from the trash. For your thoughtfulness, many coffee houses provide a 5 to 10-cent discount per cup.
  • Buy milk, water or other beverages in refillable containers.
  • When grocery shopping, bring along reusable cloth bags. Many stores offer credit for not using their paper and plastic bags, and cloth is sturdier to boot. Only accept bags from the store when you need them.

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Many products can harm you or your family, and not always immediately. Usage and disposal both carry long-term risks of putting harmful ingredients in our soil, water and air. Examine labels closely, and always choose products containing the least harmful ingredients.

  • Read labels on cleaners and automotive products for signal words — Caution, Warning, Danger, Poison — which indicate the level of hazard. Use the least hazardous product to do the job. "Caution" is least hazardous; "danger" is most hazardous. Extremely toxic products must also include the word "poison."
  • Reduce the number of cleaning products in your home by using one general-purpose cleaner.
  • Reduce or eliminate pesticides in your yard.

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Hundreds of quality products are made from recycled materials. From paper and clothing to toothbrushes, doormats and trash bags — and even pet bowls — recycled content products can do the job. Buying these products puts valuable resources to use instead of wasting them, conserves energy, and reduces pollution.

  • Look for products labeled "post-consumer", "pre-consumer" or "recycled-content."
  • Use the Minnesota Recycled Products Directory and Recycled Products Guide to identify products and where to buy them.

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Before shopping for new, think about used. You may find that a gently-used product will do just as nicely — and cost less. Consider renting, too, especially for infrequently used items such as power tools, camping gear or sporting equipment. When something breaks, look at repair. All of these options save resources and cut down on waste.

  • Shop at consignment and antique stores, where you'll find one-of-a-kind items. Who says reuse can't be fashionable?
  • Help for repairing broken items is as close as your local hardware store or online on the Internet. A little do-it-yourself can be the first step to reuse.
  • By properly maintaining items such as lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners and appliances, you'll avoid replacement and repair costs.