Next time you think about tossing used batteries, prescription drugs or certain other common household items in the trash, hold up.
Throwing away items that contain hazardous substances or materials can pose a risk to both public health and the environment.
You may already know that you shouldn’t throw away things like motor oil, a water contaminant that degrades slowly, and antifreeze, which may contain dangerous heavy metals. But there are many other items that also should never land in the trash can or end up in a landfill.
Want to do the environment, yourself and your fellow citizens a favor? Take a look at this list of things you should never throw in the trash to learn why they’re bad for human health or the environment and how to dispose of them properly.
Single-use household batteries like the ones used for your TV remote, along with rechargeable household batteries and car batteries, should be recycled at a proper hazardous materials recycling facility rather than thrown away, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
That’s because many batteries contain metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel and silver, all of which can endanger public health and the environment. Indeed, a few of these metals are known to cause cancer or reasonably believed to cause cancer.
Another good reason to recycle batteries is that some also contain lithium, cobalt and graphite, all of which the federal government classifies as “critical minerals” because they are critical to the economy and national security. So, recycling batteries results in using smaller quantities of these precious minerals.
Non-empty aerosol cans
Aerosol cans used to spray food products, personal care products, paints, solvents, pesticides and other substances are considered hazardous waste and shouldn’t be tossed in the trash unless they’re empty, according to the EPA.
Many aerosol cans contain butane or propane — flammable propellants that raise the risk of igniting the can’s contents when partially full cans are thrown away. Other hazardous chemicals and substances may also be contained in aerosol cans.
Partially filled aerosol cans should be recycled or disposed of properly at your city or county recycling center that handles hazardous materials. You can also check the label on the can for disposal instructions.
Oil-based paints and solvents
Latex paints, also known as water-based paints, and their containers often can be thrown away, says the EPA. But you should always take oil-based paints and solvents such as paint thinners to your local hazardous materials disposal facility.
Oil-based paints and solvents contain toxic and ignitable substances, according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
While many latex paints today are less harmful for the environment than in the past, your state or local government may not allow you to throw away latex paints. For example, California requires residents to use up liquid latex paint or take it to a household hazardous waste collection facility.
Plastic shopping bags
More than 3 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps ended up in U.S. landfills in 2018, according to the EPA’s most recent statistics. But you don’t have to contribute to the plastic bag environmental nightmare.
Many grocery chains accept used plastic bags for recycling. So, save the bags when you unpack groceries or other items and take them to a local grocery store that recycles them.
Better yet, buy cloth or other reusable bags for groceries to do your part for the environment.
Tossing expired or unused prescription drugs may seem like the quickest way to clean out the medicine cabinet. But prescription drugs in the trash can pose a health hazard or end up in drinking water supplies, according to the EPA.
The best way to dispose of prescription drugs, including inhaler products and fentanyl patches, is to take them to your city or county’s drug take-back program, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A handful of prescription medications also can be flushed down the toilet if they are on the FDA’s flush list.
If you have no choice but to throw non-flushable prescription drugs away, the FDA recommends mixing the pills or liquid medication in a sealed plastic bag with coffee grounds, dirt, cat litter or another substance likely to deter animals or people from digging through your trash.
Needles and syringes
To avoid injury and the spread of infections, never throw loose needles or syringes in the trash, recycling bin or toilet, warns the FDA.
Instead, place used needles and syringes in an FDA-approved sharps container or else a heavy-duty plastic household container. Then, contact your local waste department or health department and ask about sharps disposal options in your area.
Lightbulbs containing mercury
Never throw fluorescent, compact fluorescent (CFL) or other mercury-containing lightbulbs in the trash. They can break when thrown into dumpsters or burned, releasing mercury — which can be poisonous — into the air, warns the EPA.
Better to recycle these bulbs instead. Check with your local government for recycling and disposal guidelines for CFLs and other mercury-containing bulbs.
“Virtually all components of a fluorescent bulb can be recycled,” according to the EPA.
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