“I can throw anything I want in the trash. After all, garbage is garbage, right?”
Unfortunately, this common misconception is one that ends up sending inappropriate items to the landfill. It might be easy to think of any unwanted item in your home as garbage, but the fact is that not everything should get tossed in the trash. There could be a risk to the environment or to human health, or there might a better disposal option available that won’t take up valuable space in our overcrowded landfills. Read on to find out what things you should never throw in the garbage, and learn what to do with them instead.
Most people have a stack of used batteries sitting around somewhere in their home because they’ve been told that batteries shouldn’t be thrown out with the household trash. In fact, it’s been safe to throw away regular alkaline or lithium batteries for more than 20 years, as they are no longer made with mercury or other toxic materials that once made them a hazard. However, it’s important to be aware that this does not apply to rechargeable batteries, which do contain hazardous materials like lead acid and nickel cadmium. These should still be taken to an appropriate recycling facility for disposal; the same goes for watch batteries and automotive batteries.
Prescription medications, even expired ones, should never be thrown away. Not only can this allow powerful chemicals to contaminate the soil or water supply, but there is also the risk that they might be ingested by mistake. The same risks are present when medication is flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain, two other disposal methods that you should be sure to avoid. Instead, it’s best to take any unused or expired medications in a secure container back to an appropriate health care facility. Many pharmacies (and even some local law enforcement agencies) accept both controlled and non-controlled substances; you can contact organizations like Take Back Your Meds to find a drop-off location near you.
Did you know that almost every state has laws or regulations that specifically govern the disposal of old tires? While tire material itself is not an environmental or health hazard, the steel belts commonly found inside auto tires can tear or puncture landfill liners, which can allow landfill leachate to seep out and contaminate the surrounding soil. Tires also take up a lot of space, which can be a problem for landfills that are already operating at or over capacity. In any case, why throw tires away when they can be recycled and repurposed into extremely useful things like surfaces for playgrounds or athletic fields? Contact your local car dealer or tire service center to find out if they accept old tires for recycling; the vast majority do.
Clothing and textiles are a huge problem in our landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year, most of which takes decades to decompose (but only if it’s biodegradable in the first place). A better option is textile recycling, which transforms your old jeans and bedsheets into products like furniture padding or car insulation. Curbside recycling is not yet available for clothing and textiles, but an increasing number of major clothing retailers are partnering with recycling organizations to offer recycling drop-off options to consumers.
Thanks to a surge in green waste and organics pickup programs, an increasing number of municipalities no longer accept food in the garbage. Different programs will have different rules about what’s acceptable, but most programs take a wide variety of organic materials, from fruit and vegetable scraps, to bones and cooking fat, to dairy products. So get into the habit of scraping your plate into your green bin rather than the garbage. If your municipality does not offer organic waste pickup, you can still make good use of some of your food scraps and other green waste with a backyard composter.
You’ve probably never thought twice about cleaning off your hairbrush (or the brush you use for your cat or dog) and throwing the hair in the trash, but you might be surprised to lean that there’s a better place for it: your compost pile. Hair contains significant amounts of nitrogen, an important nutrient for plants, so using hair to boost the nitrogen levels in your compost helps create an abundant source of fertilizer. (Just be sure to use compost containing hair on non-edible plants only.
You might not think about cosmetics as dangerous substances because you use them on your skin, but most conventional cosmetics contain chemicals that can be dangerous for the environment if they aren’t disposed of properly. Fortunately, cosmetics recycling programs are now offered by many major retailers; you can search online to find a program near you.