With most trash, it’s pretty easy to decide where it goes — food waste can go into the compost, garbage disposal or into the kitchen trash. Glass, paper, cans and most plastics can go into the regular recycling. But what do you do with old light bulbs or batteries? What about unused paint, expired medications or that old TV?
You might be tempted to just toss this stuff in the regular garbage, but you really shouldn’t. Some items, like light bulbs, and even old TVs and appliances, can contain hazardous metals like lead and mercury. Still other common household items, like electronics, should be recycled because they contain precious metals. Here’s how to dispose of some of the most common household items that shouldn’t just go in the trash.
Single-use, alkaline batteries were once made with mercury, making them hazardous to throw away, but that’s no longer true. Now, these are safe to throw away, unless you live in California, where recycling is mandatory for all types of batteries. You can use a resource like Earth911 to locate battery recycling in your area, as well as local recycling options for other household items that can’t be thrown away.
Other types of batteries, including button cell batteries, lithium and lithium-ion batteries, nickel-zinc rechargeable batteries, lead acid batteries, nickel-metal hydride batteries, and nickel-cadmium batteries, may contain heavy metals and should be recycled.
If you’re wondering how to dispose of old batteries, you may need to do a little homework. Button cell batteries, such as those found in watches and hearing aids, may need to be mailed back to the manufacturer for recycling. You may be able to recycle the other types through your local waste management center, or at home improvement or office stores, which often supply drop boxes for battery recycling. Remove batteries from electronics and cover the terminals with clear tape before recycling.
Smart Phones, Laptops and Tablets
Smart phones, laptops and tablets contain precious metals and should be recycled to minimize the need to mine these materials anew. Most cell phone carriers run programs that allow you to recycle your old device or donate it to someone in need if it still works — you can hand it over when you upgrade. Electronics stores like Best Buy also accept devices for recycling. Simply remove your SIM card from your phone and wipe any data from your device with a factory reset.
TVs, Microwaves and Other Appliances
In many areas, you’re not allowed to put old TVs and microwaves out with the regular trash. Get rid of old appliances by hiring a junk removal service to come pick them up. You may be able to sell some appliances, like microwaves, for scrap metal. And most cities have a special collection day once or twice a year when residents can dispose of TVs, microwaves, refrigerators, mattresses and other items they can’t usually throw away, either by simply setting them on the curb or taking them to a specific location.
The answer to the question of what to do with old light bulbs used to be easy — you could just throw them away. But the newer, energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs contain mercury, so you shouldn’t toss them in the trash. Home stores like Lowes accept these bulbs for recycling, and your local recycling center may also accept them.
If you have paint that you don’t plan to use but is still good, you can donate it to a charity like Habitat for Humanity, or you can contact your local waste management facility to ask about donating it in your area. If you need to throw old latex paint away, mix it with kitty litter until it has solidified, then toss it in the trash and recycle the cans. Oil paint is considered hazardous waste, so contact your local waste management facility for instructions on how to dispose of it.
Expired or Unused Medication
You should dispose of unused or expired medication at a certified disposal site — your pharmacist can point you in the right direction. If you don’t have one nearby, you can dispose of the medication by crushing it up and mixing it with something unpalatable, such as dirt, used cat litter or food waste, and sealing it in a plastic bag before tossing it in the regular trash. If your medication is a controlled substance, however, the FDA recommends flushing it down the toilet if you can’t dispose of it at a certified disposal site or law enforcement takeback center.
Not every household item can be tossed out in the trash when you’re ready to dispose of it. Make sure you’re disposing of appliances, light bulbs, batteries and other household items correctly. Your health, and the health of the environment, could depend on it.