Don't toss that! 5 items that should never go in the trash

Have you ever wondered what to do with dead batteries, broken electronics, and burnt out light bulbs? Read on to find out which common household items often wrongfully end up the trash – and what you should do with them instead.

Used or obsolete electronics, often referred to as e-scrap, can contain hazardous components that are detrimental to human and environmental health, and they need to be dealt with safely.
Used or obsolete electronics, often referred to as e-scrap, can contain hazardous components that are detrimental to human and environmental health, and they need to be dealt with safely. | Photo: Adobe Stock

Every day, each person in the U.S. generates an average of 4.5 pounds of trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We tend to toss out just about anything, from half-eaten meals to worn-out tennis shoes, but some items we regularly dispose of shouldn't be thrown into the trash. Have you ever wondered what to do with dead batteries, broken electronics, and burnt out light bulbs?

Read on to find out which common household items often wrongfully end up the trash – and what you should do with them instead.

  1. Light bulbs
    Consumers should refrain from tossing CFL and fluorescent bulbs in with household trash. In fact, it’s illegal in several states to dump these bulbs due to them containing a small amount of mercury, according to the EPA. Properly disposing of these items is easy, as most local home improvement stores offer convenient drop-off options. Another bonus? Virtually all components of a fluorescent bulb can be recycled, so disposing of them properly allows the reuse of glass, metals, and other materials.

    However, regular incandescent and LED bulbs CAN be disposed of in your household trash. Just take extra precaution to protect you or your sanitation worker from broken shards by placing the bulb in a protective layer, such as a used cereal box.
     
  2. Old or used electronics
    We live in a world full of smartphones, tablets, TVs, and computers. In this quickly evolving digital age, it’s not uncommon to replace these devices every few years. But what should we do with the old ones? Used or obsolete electronics (often referred to as e-scrap) can contain hazardous components that are detrimental to human and environmental health, and they need to be dealt with safely. Electronic retailers, like Best Buy, often have e-waste programs at their brick and mortar locations. For your convenience, The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet has compiled this list of e-scrap recyclers in the Commonwealth.
     
  3. Batteries
    Outside of California, it is legal to throw single-use alkaline batteries in your regular trash. However, environmentalists strongly encourage you to recycle them instead. Single-use dry-cell batteries are the ones you use to power common household items like remotes, flashlights, and toys (e.g. AA, AAA, 9V, and D-cells). If you are interested in voluntarily disposing of alkaline batteries, click here to find a recycling center near you.    

    Lithium ion and rechargeable batteries are a very different story. Placing batteries in your recycling and trash containers can cause a dangerous situation. When these batteries break, they can spark fires. According to the regional waste management company Rumpke, this scenario actually caused more than a dozen fires at their Ohio-based recycling facilities in 2017 alone. The company continues to see numerous truck fires each year. Proper disposal of this type of battery is imperative. Luckily, popular retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s often serve as a collection center. To find other options near you, click here.
     
  4. Oil
    According to the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection, the 4 million gallons of oil thrown away every year in Kentucky could be turned into heating oil for more than 5,000 homes. That’s right -- re-refining used oil makes it as good as new. So if you change your own motor oil at home, listen up! Used oil is not only 100% recyclable, but it is also dangerous if improperly disposed of. The used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water, according to the EPA. That’s a years’ supply for 50 people! Needless to say, it’s very important to dispose of or recycle your used oil appropriately.

    When changing your oil, carefully collect it in a leak-proof container to take to a collection center. Many auto service retailers will take your used oil for free. If you need help finding an oil recycling location in your area, contact the Kentucky Division of Waste Management at (502) 564-6716.
     
  5. Paint
    If you’ve got leftover paint, chances are a local organization can find a good use for it. Try donating it to a community association, theatre company, church group or other local organization, such as Habitat for Humanity. Aside from donating, there are a few options for your half-used cans of paint:

    -  For water-based (latex) paint, recycling may be an option where you live by taking it to a transfer station. These stations mix all kinds of leftover paints to create new colors, which can then be used for community projects. According to Earth 911, using one gallon of recycled paint instead of new keeps 115 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air.
    - Oil-based paint can’t be recycled, which means you’ll need to use a household hazardous waste (HHW) program (click here to find the HHW program nearest you). If your community doesn’t offer HHW collection, Earth 911 recommends drying out the paint using kitty litter and/or shreds of newspaper and then disposing of it in your trash.

Thanks for educating yourself on the proper way to dispose of these five common household items. With a little awareness, we can all do our part to keep the earth pollution free.