There’s nothing like cleaning your garage or that “junk” room in your house. Suddenly you have enough space to park your car again, and you can finally see the bed in the spare bedroom!
But as you clean out garages, junk drawers or utility rooms, you’re bound to come across some items that shouldn’t go right in the garbage bin. Some things, like used electronics, can be recycled and reclaimed; whereas other stuff—half-empty cans of paint, old gasoline and many others—are more properly disposed of in other locations. Here’s what to pitch, what to recycle—and how to do it, so you can get busy rolling around on that newly cleaned bed!
Batteries are not all made equal when it comes to your trash. Some may be safe for curbside pickup, but many are not. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you’re putting yours in the right place.
Dry cell batteries
Older dry cell batteries—your standard AAAs, AAs, and other lettered types—contained harmful chemicals, like mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which should never be thrown in the trash. While the majority of manufacturers now make household batteries with safer alternative metals, many municipal areas do not allow batteries to be thrown out with the rest of your garbage. Either way, you can find local places to recycle batteries on Earth 911, which has a comprehensive search tool for household recycling.
Now if we’re talking rechargeable batteries, that’s another story. Rechargeable batteries are all made with nickel and cadmium, which can leach into nearby soil and water supplies. The back of the package should have instructions for mailback programs, or you can take them to a local Call2Recycle drop off center. Luckily, you should get about 1,000 uses out of those batteries before you’ll have to take them anywhere!
Lead acid batteries (aka used car batteries)
Lead and acid are both incredibly dangerous when incinerated, so they shouldn’t go anywhere near your household trash. Again, use the locator on Earth 911 to find a nearby battery recycling center.
It may seem like computer and cell phones work like magic—but they’re actually composed of lots of harmful compounds, like mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, and chemical flame retardants. When those chemicals and metals get into our soil and water, they result is not pretty. And used computers and other electronics often contain rare metals like gold, silver and copper—plus plastics and aluminum—that can be recovered and used for new products.
If your electronics are still working, wipe the hard drive or set the device back to factory settings, then donate them to a nearby Goodwill or other donation center. Many retailers like Sprint, Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples also participate in buyback programs and will give you money or store credit for used electronics.
If they’re not working, however, your options may be more limited. Take them to a local recycling center for materials recovery—again, you can find one on Earth 911.
Paints and Stains
Let’s face it, you’re never going to need that can of chartreuse paint again. But whatever you do, don’t dump it down the drain. Paint contains harmful chemicals that are toxic to the environment, so you should do your best to make sure as little of it goes down the sink as possible. PaintCare Inc. has a great list of local places to drop off used paints and stains. Lowe’s also says that you can dispose of latex paint safely by mixing it with equal parts clay kitty litter and allowing it to dry, then tossing it in the trash.
Finally cleaning out the bathroom medicine cabinet once and for all? Don’t chuck those old prescription meds in the trash! Mixing the medicines with used coffee grinds, sawdust or dirt ensures that they don’t get into the wrong hands (or paws, in the case of curious wildlife!). Place them in a baggy filled with one of these options—then and only then are they suitable for the trash.
Whether it’s contaminated or just sitting around in your garage too long, old gasoline is not the ideal thing to use to power your mower. Gasoline degrades after some time, which means it may not generate enough combustion to start your car or lawnmower. You can either dilute it with new gas for more power, or if it’s contaminated, take it right away to a hazardous waste disposal center in your area.
Proper disposal for light bulbs depends on the type of bulb you have. While many homeowners have moved away from CFLs and fluorescent lights, these bulbs do still exist. But because they contain mercury, they should never be thrown directly into the garbage. Look on Earth 911 for a drop off point near your location.
Look at you—running a clean home and looking out for the environment at the same time? You deserve a round of applause!