What household items should be kept out of the landfill?
June 7, 2007 7:50 AM   Subscribe

What household items are hazardous to the environment when thrown away? I'm compiling a list of items that we should recycle or dispose of specially instead of tossing, like batteries and fluorescent light bulbs.

Somewhere there has got to be a list of these items, but I am having a terrible time finding it through Google. So, a link to a list or suggestions for individual items would be great.

Bonus points are offered to anyone who can also tell us why something shouldn't end up in the trash.
posted by Alison to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
paint / paint cans. couldnt tell you why.
posted by thetenthstory at 7:57 AM on June 7, 2007

posted by sanko at 7:58 AM on June 7, 2007

Our local waste management folks send out a pamphlet about household hazardous waste and what to do with it. I can't find my copy, but their website is here.

From their list of "acceptable" materials:
* Acids
* Brake/transmission fluid and antifreeze
* Household cleaners
* Pool chemicals and poisons
* Gasoline and other flammables
* Pesticides and herbicides
* Paint (oil-based or latex) and paint thinners
* Solvents
* Household batteries
* Car batteries (2 maximum)
* Small aerosol cans
* Home generated needles & syringes (in sealed hard plastic or metal containers)
* Mercury thermometers and switches
* Used motor oil and filters
* Fluorescent tubes
* Propane tanks (barbecue style, limit 2, maximum 7-gallons)
* Cooking Oil
* Other types of household hazardous waste are also accepted (15-gallon or 125 lbs. maximum each)

As to why these things shouldn't end up in the trash, you are looking at longterm issues related to contamination of soil and groundwater, mostly. Soil is easy to deal with, groundwater not so much. A big enough plume coming from a landfill 40 years from now would be a disaster if it impacted a local groundwater supply.
posted by Big_B at 8:01 AM on June 7, 2007

Oh and another reason they shouldn't end up in the trash: Here in Sacramento we can dispose of them for free at household hazardous waste stations. All you have to do is get it there!
posted by Big_B at 8:02 AM on June 7, 2007

Green Guardian is the website for the twin cities of MN that explains all of this stuff, but I think most of their info would be relevant around the country. Here's their list of things that shouldn't be thrown in the trash.
posted by vytae at 8:10 AM on June 7, 2007

Best answer: I used to answer a solid waste/hazardous waste/compost/ household recycling hotline.

First, what can and can't be thrown away is a matter of local, county, state, and/or federal regulations. They differ from place to place largely due to politics and program funding issues.

Organized municipal collection of trash began in the 1800s when streets became overloaded with garbage, causing rampant sickness and disease. It was a public health issue. The age of plastics and throwaway culture grew as cities and counties continued to subsidize trash collection, reducing the impetus to conserve and reuse things. Nowadays, everyone expects all of their garbage to magically disappear off their curb or alley. Sadly, what happens is people still throw away things like TVs and monitors, flourescent bulbs, cell phones, various chemicals, and other hazardous materials, and it goes to a landfill where the dangerous substances eventually leak out and contaminate the water, or it ends up at an incinerator where it's burned and released into the air. More often than not these facilities are located in poor areas and disproportiately affect the lower class.

Of course there are lots of programs to redirect dangerous materials to be safely disposed of or recycled/reused. Participation levels are pretty much determined by disposal cost, enforcement of waste laws, and public education campaigns. Enforcement is often lax and educational funding sparse.

So, find out who coordinates hazardous waste disposal in your area and call them or find their website. Things mentioned above are nasty to throw away and need to be removed from the regular garbage stream.

OK, some specifics. Household batteries (AA, 9 volt, etc) go in the regular garbage. They used to contain mercury but now they don't. A lot of places collect them anyways so they don't have to differentiate between different types. Other batteries like rechargeables, buttons, can usually go to battery stores (usually for free) or maybe through the city or county.

LP gas tanks should be returned to a place that sells them, often for a fee, again check for a free county program.

Computers, TVs, cell phones, anything like that should be recycled. There are nasty metals in there. Often you will have to pay for this, but just think about 10 pounds of lead from a TV entering your drinking water source...

Paint and paint cans. We used to tell people that if the paint is still wet, it should be disposed of at the hazardous waste facility because it can contain nasty stuff. If you let solidify you can throw it away in the regular garbage. Whatever it is that's nasty in there is only nasty in liquid form.

Don't use your garbage disposal if you have one, it corrodes and blocks the sewage system and the food is much better off composted, or if you must, thrown away. Garbage disposals should really be illegal.

Just find whoever does this in your area and they'll send you a pamphlet.

I'm gonna make a lolcat for this stuff. IM IN UR INSINURATUR POYZUNIN UR CHILDRENZ
posted by look busy at 9:14 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Check with your local municipality. Some are set up to recycle many different items while others are not. Compact Fluorescent bulbs are bad for the environment but unless your community is set up to dispose of them properly then you may have to pay directly to get rid of them. My city does not pick up appliances among other things and you typically have to either pay to find a private recycler or get them removed when you buy a new appliance.
posted by JJ86 at 11:31 AM on June 7, 2007

Household batteries no longer contain mercury, and are safe to put in the trash.

All electronics batteries, including any rechargeables, are chock-full of heavy metals (cadmium, lithium , nickel, etc.), and must be recycled. Anything with a circuit board should be recycled, for the plastics and metals. CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes, i.e., teevees) are hazardous because they are full of lead.

Cooking oil might not harm the environment, but can be effectively reused, so is ideal to recycle, but probably not hazardous. I'm open to correction on this one.

If your electricity comes from coal, the energy savings from coal save way more mercury emission than the mercury in the compact flourescent bulb. It's important to recycle the bulbs, but please don't stop using them because of the recycling. Burning coal puts mercury into the air, then the water, then the fish.

Automotive batteries can go back to anyplace that sells them. They're full of lead.

Pesticides and fertilizers cause a lot of problems. Not just the unused stuff, but when it rains, they go from your yard into the water and cause problems for fish and for drinking water.

Most petroleum-based products, especially solvents. Small amounts of gasoline, benzene, and other nasty chemicals can contaminate a lot of ground water.

Old air conditioners and refrigerators are full of ozone-depleting freon. No longer a big problem, but may still crop up.

Staples is offering recycling of electronics, for a fee.

It's safer and cheaper to reduce the amount of toxic stuff you bring home. Good question.
posted by theora55 at 12:56 PM on June 7, 2007

It's safer to reduce the amount of stuff you bring home. Anything and everything you throw away is bad for the environment. Even when you add banana peels to the landfill they aren't decomposing because their bacteria can't "breathe" under the bleach bottles and sandwich wrappers.
posted by bilabial at 6:07 PM on June 7, 2007

Response by poster: Look Busy wins for actually mentioning TVs and cell phones. I can't believe that most of the lists posted leave those out.
posted by Alison at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2007

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