How To Dispose of Toxic Items from Your Home

How To Dispose of Toxic Items from Your Home

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Ashley Poskin
Aug 16, 2015
(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Do you have toxic items you're no longer using hanging around that you just don't know how to dispose of? Well, kudos for keeping them out of the landfill but it's time to get them out of the house. Check out our resource guide for handy tips on where and how to properly dispose of hazardous items in your home.

Hazardous or toxic waste can be anything flammable or combustible, corrosive, explosive, or reactive. These items, when tossed in a landfill or dumped down the drain can seep into and contaminate our water supply, breakdown and destroy our plumbing systems, and pose a threat to our environment and overall health. If an item has the words "danger", "poison", "warning", or "caution" on the label, it's toxic and should be disposed of as such.

Most cities offer hazardous household waste clean-up days where they'll accept hazardous waste items free of charge. You can also check out options with your local government or county health department. My personal favorite resource for all your recycling needs is the recycle search option on Earth911.com.

How to dispose of:

Batteries & Electronics

Rechargeable batteries. Best Buy, Target, both Lowes, and Home Depot are just a few among many of the big box stores that will take in your unwanted shells. Home Depot has a bin at the entrance (right next to the CFL light bulb bin, yay!) that you just drop your rechargeable batteries in, easy peasy!

Alkaline batteries. One-time use batteries are a bit more difficult to get rid of than rechargeable. Duracell (and many other battery companies) say it's perfectly fine to dispose of them as you would normal household waste because alkaline batteries no longer contain mercury. But we say you're still leaving a sizable piece of non-biodegradable metal in the ground, so your best option is to save up your batteries and drop them off during a hazardous household waste community day, or to recycle them at a recycling center. Search Earth911.com to find a recycling center near you.

Electronics. Computers, TV's, and other electronic devices can all be dropped off at recycling centers, but you have a few other options as well:

  • Donate. Consider calling a charity or non-profit organization to see if they might have a use for your device. Just be sure to remove all personal information before donating.
  • Buyback. Another option is to see if your device can be sold back to the company you purchased it from. Apple offers a recycling program where, if your device is eligible, you could receive an Apple gift card in exchange for your the product. Check here to see if your equipment qualifies.
  • Ship it. Apple has partnered with Sims Recycling to offer recycling services of unwanted equipment, regardless of brand or manufacturer, at zero cost to you. Call 800-966-4135 for a free, pre-paid shipping label or visit Sims Recycling for more info.

Medication

Old medication is serious business; it should be disposed of properly and timely so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands, down the drain, or into the toilet.

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The US DEA along with your local law enforcement organize one day each year when residents can safely and anonymously drop off unwanted or expired medicine. The event usually takes place in September, see the official site for details.

Household disposal. According to the EPA, you can dispose of medications by emptying the contents into a disposable container with a lid (yogurt or takeout containers are the perfect size) and mix them with an undesirable substance like cat litter or coffee grounds. Place the lid on the container and toss it in the trash.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Light bulbs

Incandescent. Unfortunately, most recycling centers won't accept these bulbs. The upside is that they don't actually contain any hazardous materials -so they can be disposed of in your trash. To be extra careful, wrap the bulb in a paper towel or plastic bag before tossing out to insure the glass won't cut anyone if it happens to break.

LED. These bulbs, similar to incandescent, don't contain any hazardous materials and they're usually made with items that can be recycled — so more often than not you can dispose of them at home in your recycle bin. Check the packaging before you toss it to be sure.

CFL. Compact fluorescent lamps (spiral bulbs) contain a small amount of mercury and should definitely be recycled. Dispose of the bulbs during a community recycle day, or drop them off at home improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot.

Fluorescent. CFL and fluorescent light bulbs are made with many of the same materials. Like CFL's, these bulbs contain mercury, so they need to be recycled at a recycling center or big box store that offers that service. For more information on where to drop off your bulbs, check out Earth911.com

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Household Cleaners

Use it. This seems like the most obvious way to dispose of cleaning supplies, but what if you decide you don't like it? Or what if you're moving and you discover a whole hoard of cleaning products you forgot you had and can't bring them with you?

Give it away. There is always a friend who needs, or just likes, free stuff. Find them, problem solved.

Dump it. Most household cleaners are water-soluble and can be disposed of down the drain. Be considerate about the the way in which you do this, don't dump everything at once and clog your drain, etc. And don't worry about your septic tank, as long as your dumping water soluble products you should be fine. After you've emptied the bottles, check to be sure they can be recycled and place them in your bin.

Paint

Paint can last for a really. long. time. This is both good and bad. Good, because you have 10-15 years to use it, bad, because if you don't — you become a paint hoarder who holds on to paint for 10-15 years. Should you decide to get rid of it, you have a few options:

Give it away. You know that friend, the one who likes freebies? Call 'em up, they'll find a use for it one way or the other! If they don't want it, take it down to a Habitat ReStore, or call a non-profit to see if they might need it. As a last resort, there's always Craigslist "free" section.

Recycle it. Check in with your city government to see when the next hazardous home waste drop off date is, they'll usually take in all kinds of paint. If you aren't able to track down an event in your city, check out Lowes, Home Depot, or Ace Hardware for special recycle events. You'll usually find lots of events in the spring for Earth Day.

Dry it out. Pick up a packet of paint hardener at your local paint store. When added to latex paint it will cause the contents to harden so it can be easily disposed of with other household waste. Kitty litter will also do the trick.

Spray paint. If the can is made of steel or aluminum you would assume you could recycle it — and you would be correct. The issue therein is whether or not the can has any amount of liquid inside. If the can is completely empty, and no more paint is able to come out, we can assume the can is empty and it can be taken to a recycling facility. If there is still liquid in the can and you are unable to empty it, take it to a hazardous waste facility, or hang on to it until you are able to attend a hazardous household waste cleanup day.

For questions on how to dispose of other toxic items in the home, check out the recycle search on Earth911.com.

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