City Guide: Madison, WI

Zero waste city guide to Madison, Wisconsin | Litterless

I visit Madison, Wisconsin most months, and over time I’ve explored much of the city. I love that outdoor adventures abound here, as do good eateries. It’s incredibly zero waste friendly, almost more so than Chicago – it’s rare I arrive in Madison without a list of a few pantry staples I’ll need to stock up on during my trip. Below, a few of my favorite activities, eateries, grocery stores, and compost tips.


Madison residents embrace outdoor activities, no matter the weather. Stroll by the lake and sit out at the terrace. Look for free concerts throughout the summer, and in the winter free movies at the Student Union. You can also rent stand up paddleboards and kayaks at the lake, ski and snowshoe in the winter, and walk and hike year round (if you’re willing to travel further afield, visit Devil’s Lake). The commuter path is a beautiful place to bike, and so is the university’s Arboretum. On weekend mornings, stake out a table at a coffee shop (at both Colectivo and Barriques you can ask for your drink to stay, in a reusable mug). Wander State Street and Willy Street, stopping for drinks or food or zero waste basics (see below for tips!). As you can tell, we keep things pretty chill when we’re in Madison, with lots of simple, restful choices.


If you love beer, meat, and cheese, well, you’ll love the food scene in Madison. Check out Café Hollander (ask for no straws), Graze for farm to table fare, and honestly pretty much everywhere else. Get an ice cream cone made with locally produced milk at university’s Union. And try cheese curds! Vegans and vegetarians (and you meat eaters, too) will love Green Owl (for vegan and vegetarian twists on classic American food) and Pizza Brutta (ridiculously good wood-fired pizza). For ethnic food, we love the New Seoul Korean restaurant on the west side and a couple of places on Willy Street.

Stay zero waste:

Grocery Shop: 

-I could sing Willy Street Co-op's praises all day. Head here for local produce, bulk coffee and tea, a huge selection of herbs and spices, olive oil, vinegar (only available at the Middleton location), soy sauce, honey and maple syrup, vanilla extract, freshly ground nut butter, locally brewed kombucha on tap, seeds for sprouting, an olive bar where you can purchase olives in your own containers, and an incredible selection of pantry staples such as snack foods, whole grains, and nuts. In addition, Willy Street sells bulk cleaning and hygiene supplies such as dish soap, laundry detergent, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and also reusable steel safety razors, if you're in the market for one. They have a prepared foods bar and a salad bar that you can put directly into your own containers - great when you need a quick meal.

-Visit the Regent Street Co-op for bulk dry goods, like grains, beans, snacks, nuts, herbs, spices, teas, and more.

-At HopCat downtown, bring a growler from home to fill up with beer on tap.

-At the Community Pharmacy downtown, you can fill your own containers with tea, as well as body care and home care products like dish soap, laundry detergent, castile soap, liquid hand soap, body wash, shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner, from brands like E.O. Products, Alaffia, Alba, and Giovanni. You can also purchase Merkur razors, shaving brushes, package-free bars of soap, bulk henna, menstrual cups, and bottles and tins for homemade cosmetics.

-Visit Vom Fass for bulk oils (many different types of olive oil, as well as pumpkin seed oil, walnut oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil, sesame oil, argan oil, and rosehip oil) and vinegars (many different balsamics, as well as red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and more). You'll need to purchase an empty bottle from them on your first visit, but after that the'll refill it on subsequent visits.


-Many University of Wisconsin buildings, such as the student unions, offer composting bins alongside their trash and recycling - this is great for students, faculty, and even travelers to the city.

-If you're visiting the city, you can also place small amounts of compost in the buckets at Willy Street Co-op.

-Residents may compost their yard waste (fallen leaves, grass clippings, or gardening detritus) at drop-off sites around the city. And, walking around Madison I've seen so many backyard composting setups - hooray!

Happy travels, friends. Pictured here is the wonderful bulk tea selection at Willy Street Co-op.

Previously in City Guides: More Midwestern goodness, Chicago and Indianapolis!