Think Before You Trash: 4 Items That Don’t Belong in Your Container

Think Before You Trash: 4 Items That Don’t Belong in Your Container


When you clean house, your trash Container seems like the ultimate solution for all your clutter. Old magazines? Toss them. Receipts from three years ago? Throw them in, too. Used hygiene products? Toss those, along with fabric scraps, broken utensils and dried-up ball-point pens.

And though your trash container easily holds old, broken and unwanted items, keep in mind all garbage ultimately has to go somewhere: the nearest landfill.

While your local waste and recycling service provider can accommodate most of what gets thrown away, some items can have a negative impact on the environment if disposed of incorrectly. The following items, in particular, require separate disposal to ensure they don’t harm plants, animals and the community.

1. Batteries

Before much research was conducted on the negative environmental effects mercury causes, batteries contained this substance. If batteries were disposed at the landfill, they would leak mercury (highly poisonous) into the ground.

As research and technology progressed, modern alkaline batteries were created to no longer use mercury during production, so you can safely dispose of them with the rest of your garbage. However, rechargeable batteries and car batteries both still contain additional environmentally harmful chemicals (such as nickel cadmium) that seep into the soil and water.

Rather than throwing rechargeable batteries away, take them to a collection site to be properly disposed of.

2. Electronics

With today’s whirlwind advances in technology, your phone, tablet, laptop and computer are likely to become outdated within a year. If you like to stay updated with the latest tech, you may have more than a few used electronics around your house. And even if you prefer to hold onto your electronics for as long as possible, the average smartphone is not likely to last beyond five years.

But like batteries, most electronics contain toxic chemicals (such as cadmium, lead and arsenic) that could easily disperse into the ground and water, damaging our environment. Furthermore, starting in 2003, Illinois (and 27 other states) passed e-waste recycling laws forbidding the disposal of electronics in local landfills.

If you need to throw away your old flat screen TV, cracked iPad or anything else electronic that you may have, schedule an e-waste pickup with your local recycling collection provider.

3. Oil-Based Paints

If you are a hobbyist or a professional painter, you can safely dispose of your water color, acrylic and latex-based paints with the rest of your garbage, so long as you allow the paint to dry fully first. These paints are non-toxic and will not cause lasting damage.

However, if you frequently work with oil-based paints, treat them as hazardous waste. Although you won’t find lead in today’s paint, you may find other potentially poisonous hydrocarbons that pollute the air and cause respiratory difficulty.

To properly dispose of oil-based paints, bring them to a state-sponsored household hazardous waste collection event or contact your nearest household hazardous waste facility.

4. Smoke Detectors

Many homes rely on one or two types of smoke detectors: photoelectric detectors and ionization detectors.

Photoelectric smoke detectors send out low-power lasers to a photodetector. If smoke blocks that beam, the detector senses a lack of light and triggers the alarm. These smoke devices are completely safe to toss with your regular trash.

In contrast, ionization detectors have an ionization chamber that holds two plates and an ionizing radiation source. The radiation source emits alpha particles at a consistent rate, and when smoke enters the chamber, it disrupts the flow of ionized particles and triggers the alarm.

Due to the radiation source in ionization detectors, you should not throw your old or broken smoke detector in the trash. Although the radioactive material is present in safe, small amounts, the radiation has a half-life of hundreds of years. If thousands of households dispose of their smoke detectors at local landfills, the combined radiation would prove dangerous to the environment.

Many recycling centers lack the means to dispose of radioactive material, so your best disposal option is to contact the manufacturer of the product. If your manufacturer does not accept your smoke detector, email the Office of Sustainability at

When in Doubt, Call Your Local Waste Facility

With a little extra care and research, you can free up space at your local landfill and do your part to protect the environment. If you don’t know whether you should throw away an item, don’t hesitate to call your local waste and recycling facility and ask for clarification.

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