How To Safely Dispose Old Electronics, Batteries and More
By: Jane Irene Kelly
A major clean-out, whether it’s of your garage, basement or closet, can be so satisfying. That is, until you look at everything you want to get rid of and think, “What am I going to do with all this stuff?”
It’s important to keep as much as possible out of landfills, since decomposition is a slow process that not only releases harmful methane gas into the environment, but could also lead to dangerous chemicals seeping into the ground, says Bryan Staley, president and CEO of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF). According to the latest figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 137 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) are landfilled in the United States annually, which includes things that should be recycled, but aren’t.
Here’s a look at a few household items that commonly get thrown away, but should actually be recycled with care.
Batteries contain highly poisonous chemicals found in heavy metals, so if they end up in landfills, these chemicals can get into the ground and harm the local water supply, Staley cautions. Recycle them, but don’t just throw them into a standard bin, since different types of batteries—from a standard AA to a car battery—should follow different recycling processes.
Bring your batteries to a local retailer that sells them, such as Staples or Lowes. They will gladly accept your used batteries and know how to recycle them properly. Want to do it yourself? Organizations like Big Green Box make it easy to ship them off for recycling.
A United Nations study found that 44.7 million tons of e-waste was discarded in 2016—and only one-fifth of it was disposed of properly. Like batteries, electronics can contain harmful chemicals like lead and mercury that can ultimately reach the water supply through landfill decomposition, so avoid tossing them away. Find out if your local community has an e-cycling program or look to resources like the e-Stewards or E-Cycling Central to locate e-cyclers near you. Some electronics manufacturers and retailers also recycle electronics such as mobile phones and computers: See this list on the EPA’s website.
Mercury makes CFL and fluorescent light bulbs burn bright, but it’s “bad news for the environment,” according to Staley. Just ask our partner Waterkeeper Alliance about the effects of mercury contamination. More than 80 percent of fish contain unsafe levels of mercury due to the decomposed runoff that gets into our waterways, which endangers the humans that eventually consume the fish.
Look to local recycling centers, household hazardous waste drop-off facilities, home improvement stores and retailers like Batteries Plus Bulbs for help with light bulb disposal. That includes incandescent, halogen and LED light bulbs, even though they don’t typically contain toxic chemicals.
More than 50,000 mattresses end up in landfills every day, according to the Mattress Recycling Council. But that shouldn’t be their fate, since mattresses can be recycled. Find your local mattress recycler and bring your unwanted bed there—during the recycling process, it’ll be broken down into individual components and repurposed appropriately. Springs, for example, will make their way to steel mills for a new life.
Even if you don’t have use for that extra can of seafoam green paint you used to update your guest bathroom, someone else might. Nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and Paintcare will accept it, and even provide a useful online tool for finding drop-off locations. If you must throw paint away, be sure to dry out it first, and confirm that no local laws prohibit paint disposal in household trash.
The list above includes just a few examples of items that might spark a clean-out conundrum, but they all have one thing in common: Figuring out how to dispose of them properly will likely take a little extra time, research and effort on your part. The best options aren’t always the easiest, but the environment will thank you in the long run.
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Photo: Tyler Lastovich