How to Get Rid of All Your Unwanted Stuff
It's time to toss your batteries and broken glass the responsible way.
One man’s trash isn’t always another man’s treasure. Sometimes worn out or used items really do belong in a dumpster or recycling bin. But while it’s common knowledge to put your newspaper in a blue recycling receptacle or to toss your used toothbrush in the trash, some household items are harder to get rid of. In order to make sure that your unwanted goods get put to good use—or, at the very least, don’t harm anyone—you have to make sure that they’re getting disposed of the right way. So, in honor of National Old Stuff Day, here are the proper ways to get rid of your unwanted things.
Batteries are either recycled or thrown away.
It’s a common misconception that all batteries need to be recycled. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the only batteries that need to be brought to special facilities are the rechargeable ones containing nickel-cadmium and lead-acid. (You can find a list of suitable recycling facilities here.) Otherwise, “regular alkaline, manganese, and carbon-zinc batteries are not considered hazardous waste and can be disposed of with ordinary trash.”
Get rid of your old appliances when you install new ones.
Large appliances aren’t easy to dispose of yourself. Who wants to lug their refrigerator to the curb on the one day a month bulk items are collected? But there’s actually a very easy solution.
When you’re at the store buying the replacement model for your old appliance, ask a salesperson whether they offer removal services. Most companies will take unwanted items off your hands—sometimes even for free!
Bring unused medications to designated collection sites.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) holds National Prescription Drug Take-Back events nationwide where you can safely dispose of unused and unwanted prescriptions. And if you miss this event when it happens in your area, don’t fret; most municipalities also have controlled substance public disposal locations that are available to the public all year round.
That said, there are other ways to get rid of your medications at home. So long as they don’t have specific disposal instructions listed, then the Federal Drug Administration notes that you can actually just throw them in the trash by following a few simple steps. Combine the medications with something inedible, like cat litter or dirt. Then place the mixture in a plastic bag, and throw it away. That’s all there is to it!
Recycle or donate your old knives.
Almost any knife can be sharpened, but if your blade is broken or chipped, it may be time to say goodbye. Even though your knife may no longer be good to you, consider donating it to a local soup kitchen or thrift store. Just be sure to check that they accept knives as donations.
But if you’re certain your knife is no longer good to anyone, find a scrap metal recycler in your area (most metro areas have one). And if that isn’t an option, you can carefully throw away your knife. Taste of Home suggests you wrap it in newspaper, cover it in cardboard or bubblewrap, secure it with heavy-duty tape, and then place it in a box and seal it with more tape.
Bring latex-based paint to delegated dump sites.
Most areas have special waste drop-off sites where you can safely dispose of latex-based paints. (You can find one near you by using this site.)
As for oil-based paints, small amounts—emphasis on small—can be thrown away along with your household trash so long as they are mixed with an absorbent material that will soak them up. If you’re dealing with a large quantity of oil-based paint, then you’ll need to contact a private contractor to pick your stash up and get rid of it properly.
Wrap up your old mattress.
Make sure that you cover your mattress with a plastic bag before bringing it to the curb. The city of New York, for example, warns that mattresses left outside sans plastic attract bed bugs and can incur a $100 fine.
Once your mattress is all covered and ready to move on to greener pastures, you can call up the garbage collectors in your city (so long as they offer bulk waste collection) and they will dispose of it accordingly.
Bring your fluorescent bulbs to proper recycling sites.
According to the EPA, fluorescent lightbulbs contain mercury that, when released into the environment, can do some serious damage.
Instead, check out Earth911 to find a service that can help you recycle your old fluorescent bulbs. When they’re recycled properly, the materials that these bulbs are made of out—like glass and metal—can successfully be repurposed.
Bring your old computer to Staples.
Staples makes it easy to do away with old computers, whether they’re working or not. If your computer is still functional, you can take advantage of the company’s tech trade-in program to both get rid of your computer and make money in the process.
If your laptop is totally kaput, Staples also offers an electronics recycling program at no cost to you.
They’ll take your smartphones and tablets, too.
Staples’ electronics program isn’t limited to computers. If you have a cell phone or tablet that you’re no longer using, then you can bring it to Staples and either recycle it or trade it in for cash, depending on its condition.
Find a textile recycling service for old clothes that can’t be donated.
Though most of your clothing items can go to charity, others—like used socks and undergarments—are not going to be accepted at any second-hand store.
That’s where textile recycling comes in handy. Companies like Greenmarket Clothing Collection, Green Tree Textiles, and Planet Aid all have collection boxes where you can drop off clothes to be recycled.
Pour leftover laundry detergent down the drain.
Of course, the best thing to do with extra laundry detergent is to use it. However, if you’ve become allergic to your detergent or can’t stand its smell, then it’s perfectly safe to pour the remaining liquid down the drain. Just make sure to keep the water running as you do so that your pipes don’t clog!
Wrap broken glass up before throwing it away.
When it comes to disposal, glass and knives follow the same rules. “To dispose of broken glass, seal it in a box or wrap it in several sheets of newspaper and place it in your garbage,” advises the Recycling Council of British Columbia.
Wait for hot oil to cool before discarding.
If you throw hot oil down the drain immediately after cooking, it could potentially cause sewer backups and damage your pipes. Instead, you should wait until the oil cools and then pour it in a container to be thrown out with the rest of your garbage.
Take used ink cartridges to Staples (and get paid for doing so).
If you buy your ink or toner at Staples, then you can recycle it there, too. In fact, you’ll even get $2 for each used cartridge you recycle at the store!
Alternatively, you can also bring your cartridge to Costco and get it refilled with ink for a fraction of what a typical cartridge costs.
Soak matches in cold water before tossing them.
Make sure to soak any unwanted matches in cold water before you throw them away. This will ensure that the matches don’t spark in the trash should they happen to strike against a rough surface.
Drop old lighter fluid off at a hazardous waste facility.
Because lighter fluid is a fuel, it’s considered hazardous waste. As such, any unwanted kerosene must be disposed of at a household hazardous waste facility where it won’t harm other humans or the environment.
Needle disposal varies by state.
That said, anything sharp should never be thrown loosely into the trash or recycling, warns SafeNeedleDisposal.org. Ideally, you should get a hazardous materials bin from your doctor’s office where you can place used needles and then return the bin to the doctor.
For more information on your state’s regulations regarding needle disposal, check out SafeNeedleDisposal.org’s interactive map.
Find a charity to take your old bicycle.
There are tons of charities nationwide that would be more than happy to take your old bike off your hands, even if it’s broken.
In New York, Recycle-a-Bicycle refurbishes old bikes and donates them to youth in the community. And in San Francisco, Pedal Revolution uses old bicycles to teach local youth how build and repair bikes. Check out iBike for a comprehensive list of charities that accept bicycles nationwide.
Donate your used tools to a thrift store.
Just because you don’t want or need your old tools anymore doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t do something with them. Thrift stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army are usually more than happy to take these tools off your hands and put them on their shelves, so long as they’re still in somewhat decent condition.
Bring your old pots and pans to a scrap metal facility.
“Most pots and pans are made of metal and are therefore recyclable,” notes the culinary team at kitchenware outlet Pots & Pans. “However, most curbside recycling programs won’t accept them.”
So what’s a chef to do when their cookware becomes scratched up and unusable? Bring it to the local scrap metal recycling facility, of course! Just make sure to indicate whether your pot or pan has a non-stick finish, since that needs to be removed before it can be recycled.
You can also recycle hair styling tools at a scrap metal facility.
“Curling irons, hairdryers and other similar hair appliances can be recycled for their scrap metal rather than thrown away,” notes Earth911. “Although these appliances can’t be put in curbside recycling bins, they are accepted anywhere scrap metal is collected.”
Space heaters are either recycled or thrown away.
According to the Chittenden Solid Waste District in Vermont, whether or not your space heater can be thrown in the trash depends on what type it is.
If your space heater is made primarily of plastic and doesn’t contain any hazardous materials, then it can be disposed of alongside your household trash. If the heater is made primarily of metal without any hazardous fluids, then you can bring it to a scrap metal center to be recycled. And if the heater does contain hazardous material, then you’ll need to bring it to a hazardous waste facility to be taken care of safely.
Burn your old flag and bury its ashes.
Technically, the proper way to dispose of a ripped flag is to burn and bury it. In fact, there is even a United States Flag Code that was written in 1976 that states that “when [a flag] is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, [it] should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” If and when you need to get rid of a flag, check out the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ guide on proper flag burning here.
Donate your old swing set.
If your swing set is still in relatively good shape and you’re only getting rid of it because your kids have outgrown it, then consider donating it. Parks, schools, children’s shelters, and religious organizations are often in need of playground equipment, so giving yours away could be a great option.
However, if your swing set is far past the point of repair, then you can take it apart and bring the remnants to a recycling facility for proper disposal.
Mercury thermometers must be brought to a hazardous waste facility.
Thermometers powered by batteries can be thrown out in the garbage bin with all of your other trash. If your thermometer is filled with mercury, though, then the EPA warns that you should either “wait for a hazardous waste collection day” or bring it “to a household hazardous collection center in a cardboard box,” depending on what services your city offers.
Donate books you no longer need.
Just because books are made of paper doesn’t mean recycling them is the best option. There are tons of organizations out there that are more than happy to take your old novels and put them to good use.
Better World Books, for instance, accepts donations nationwide—and part of the profits the organization receives from selling donated books goes toward funding non-profit literacy organizations.
Compost your dead plants.
When most people think of composting at home, they think of things like vegetable peels and eggshells. But you can actually compost things from the garden as well, like dry leaves and dead plants. This recycling process both nourishes the ecosystem and helps you get rid of any dead plants in your house or garden.
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