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8 Things You Should Never Throw Away in the Garbage

While plenty of people know to separate their trash based on recycling practices, not as many people know about certain items that should never be put into the garbage. Disposed of improperly placed household items can end up causing severe harm to you, your family, your pets, the ecosystem, and more. Here are 8 things you should never throw away in the garbage.

1 – Batteries

One of the most common but dangerous items people regularly throw away is batteries. No matter if they’re small batteries for household electronics, lithium-ion batteries found in cell phones, tablets, rechargeable tools and toys, or large car batteries, over three billion batteries are thrown away every year in the United States alone. Batteries easily cause fires in the garbage, especially when they’re crushed in trash compactors in garbage trucks or waste management facilities.

To safely dispose of regular household batteries, collect them separately from your regular trash and dispose of them at your local household hazardous waste or HHW facility. You can also bring them to your town’s next hazardous waste collection day. Automotive batteries can be either be brought to HHW facilities or to auto parts stores or mechanic shops where they’ll recycle them. If you aren’t sure where your local HHW facility may be, contact your solid waste district for more information. 

2 – Important and Sensitive Documents

Despite living in the digital age, many of your most important and sensitive documents still arrive to you in paper format. It’s important to have physical copies of important documents, but it’s easy to get bogged down in old, outdated, or unnecessary forms, bills, statements, and other papers. Like any other worthless paper, your first thought is likely to crumble up these documents and throw them in the garbage, but that’s highly dangerous. Millions of people have had their identities stolen because they improperly disposed of personal documents.

To dispose of these documents while keeping your information safe, completely destroy the papers before throwing them away. Use a cross-cut or micro-cut shredder to destroy important and sensitive documents. Do not use basic strip-cut shredders. While the documents will be destroyed in strip-cut shredders, the pieces are large enough to reassemble fairly easily. Cross-cut shredders create much smaller strips, and micro-cut shredders turn any document into a pile of confetti, making it virtually impossible to reassemble the pieces. Then place your paper shreds in a clear plastic bag and you can send them to recycling for processing and use as a new raw material.

3 – CFL Light Bulbs and Fluorescent Tube Lights

Another incredibly common household item people throw away in the regular trash is light bulbs. While LED, halogen and incandescent light bulbs can be disposed of in your household garbage without harm, you should never throw away CFL light bulbs or fluorescent tube lights. CFL and fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, which is highly toxic. If either type of bulb is broken in your home, it could pose a serious health risk to you, your family and your pets. In addition, fluorescent tube lights are very common in older homes, office buildings and construction sites, but they’re usually too long to go in the regular garbage. Instead, people usually throw them directly in dumpsters. After all, what can't you throw in a dumpster, right? Wrong. Throwing CFL or fluorescent bulbs in the dumpster almost guarantees that they’ll immediately be broken, presenting a hazardous situation to any nearby wildlife and the waste management employees who handle the dumpster and garbage bags.

To determine the best way to dispose of these light bulbs in your area, please contact your local solid waste district. 

4 – Paint

A new paint job to the interior or exterior of your home every few years is great to help keep your house looking vibrant and clean. However, these home improvement jobs leave behind numerous cans of paint. Oil-based paints, stains, and varnishes should never be thrown away in the regular garbage. Water-based paint is safe to dispose of normally as long as it’s dry or soaked up with kitty litter or sand. Contact your local solid waste district to determine the best way to dispose of any other paint, stain, or varnish. 

5 – Cleaning Solutions, Pesticides, and Yard Chemicals

Some of the harshest chemicals you’ll ever have in your home come in the form of cleaning solutions, pesticides, and products commonly used in yard work and gardening. They are extremely toxic to humans and animals. Rumpke does not accept liquid waste, including cleaning solutions, pesticides, and yard chemicals. Please call your local solid waste district to learn how to best dispose of these hazardous items in your area. 

6 – Motor Oil

Disposing of old motor oil bottles by putting them in the regular garbage is extremely hazardous. Motor oil is such a massive threat to the ecosystem that it’s actually illegal to dispose of oil in any unofficial manner. If you contact your local solid waste district, they should be able to advise you on how to dispose of motor oil in your area. 

7 – Electronics

The average household in today’s modern world is loaded with electronics, and they’re constantly failing or being replaced with newer upgrades. With so many electronics becoming obsolete or useless, you’ve most likely asked, “Can you throw electronics in the garbage?” Thrown-out electronics, also known as e-waste, often contain lead, mercury, barium, lithium and cadmium, which are hazardous on their own, but become even more toxic and dangerous when they’re left to break down in the heat of harsh sunlight.

In addition, throwing out old personal electronics, such as phones, laptops or tablets leaves your personal information vulnerable to people who may remove these devices from the garbage. Even if the device itself doesn’t work, information can easily be extracted from the hard drive.

Instead of throwing out electronic devices, send them to a specialty electronics recycling center. If your device is still functional and in good shape, consider donating it to a local charity. Remember to fully wipe the hard drive of any device before recycling or donating it.

8 – Prescription Medications and Medical Waste

If you have leftover prescription medications or other medical waste such as syringes, needles, inhalers, and used bandages, never dispose of them in the regular garbage. In addition, always avoid flushing leftover prescription medication down the toilet. Any form of prescription medication can cause harmful effects on waterways and local wildlife. Other forms of medical waste present dangerous health hazards to those working in waste management. There are many drug take-back programs available to get rid of prescription drugs. For more information on disposing of household medical waste, please contact your local solid waste district.

Now that you know what you can’t throw in the garbage, you may be wondering “What can you throw in the garbage safely?” The good news is that most common household items can be disposed of in your regular garbage without concern. If there are certain items that you’re unsure about, give us a call, send us a message on social media, or reach out to your local waste district for advice on how to dispose of the item safely. And more importantly, don’t forget to recycle. More than half the items that wide up at landfills could have been recycled!


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