Eco-Friendly Ways to Manage Tricky Trash

While those of us living a green lifestyle are committed to practicing the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle), every now and again even the greeniest of us may need to discard of items that our community trash collection does not accept at the curb (or is inappropriate for reuse and donation). What to do? Here are a few suggestions for safe and environmentally friendly disposal of a few tricky items from around the house:

In the medicine cabinet

To safely get rid of old and unused prescription medications, the Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends the following:

1. Remove medication from its container and place pills in the trash.

2. To discourage illegal use of disposed medications, mix medications with “undesirable substances” such as kitty litter or coffee grounds and put in nondescript containers.

3. Read the label. If your medication specifies that it is safe to flush remainders down the toilet, flush away.

4. Locate your community medication donation or take-back program. I simply asked the pharmacist at our local C.V.S. if I might drop off old prescriptions, and she verified that our C.V.S. pharmacy accepts the return of unused prescription pills.

Under the kitchen sink, in the tool shed, and out in the garage

Ideally, the best way to manage hazardous wastes in your home is simply to purchase safe and healthy alternatives or create your own products. However, when you do have HHW (household hazardous waste) to dispose of, such as all purpose cleaners, drain openers, oven cleaners, glue, mold and mildew removers, automotive oil, paint strippers, thinners, and removers, and grease and rust removers, first consider your family’s safety and the health and safety of our sanitation workers. Surprisingly, federal law approves of putting HHW into the trash, however, “HHW have the potential to cause physical injury to sanitation workers, [can] contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems if poured down drains or toilets, and present hazards to children and pets if left around the house.”

So, how can we be proactive when getting rid of household hazardous wastes? The E.P.A. recommends:

1. Locate your local year-found collection facility. Leftover hazardous waste products may be used by others or properly disposed of in a safe way.

2. Find out whether your community hosts special days for hazardous waste pick-ups. Again, your HHW will go to a facility that treats hazardous waste.

3. Check out local businesses and garages to see whether they offer a collection program for the use or proper disposal of HHW.


Whether you’re checking your e-mail, hanging curtains, or listening to a portable radio, if you are not plugged into an electrical outlet, chances are that you are benefiting from the use of batteries. Since batteries are a convenient source of power, nearly 3 billion dry cell and 99 million wet cell batteries are purchased by Americans each year.

The best course of action for environmentally friendly battery use is to purchase reusable batteries, which not only keep nasty chemicals like mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel from contaminating our environment but also keeps hundreds of single use batteries from entering our solid waste stream. Another way to manage battery waste is to locate battery recycling centers; many retailers who produce certain kinds of batteries are mandated, by state laws, to accept used batteries for recycling.

To find a free, battery collection agency in your community, visit the non-profit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation.

Compact Fluorescent and High Intensity Discharge Light Bulbs

The good news about CFLs and other mercury containing light bulbs is that they last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs (the old standard for lighting our homes). The bad news? Over 670 million mercury containing bulbs are discarded of in the U.S. each year, and when these bulbs are improperly disposed of (by being placed in curbside trash), it can result in a release of elemental mercury into the environment and in the long run can contaminate the food chain.

A smart and safe way to dispose of your CFLs and other mercury containing bulbs is to recycle them; several retailers across the nation are committed to reusing the glass, metal, and mercury from CFLs to manufacture new bulbs and other glass and metal products. Currently, the Home Depot accepts CFLs for recycling and IKEA offers a Free Take Back Program at all of their stores. Another great resource for safe and environmentally friendly CFL disposal is, which ensures that CFLs find their way to a recycling facility.

The safe and proper disposal of all trash is just another way that we can make way for a clean and healthy environment. By making sure that our garbage goes to the appropriate treatment facility, we are doing a favor for our families and pets, our sanitation workers, and the environment. What items from around the house pose a disposal challenge for you and your family? How are you managing hazardous household wastes? What tips do you have? We’d love to hear about your environmental efforts and safe disposal acts. Please share in the comments. Thanks!

Jessica Monte also blogs about natural parenting and the environment at Green Mamma and API Speaks.

Original 5 Minutes for Going Green post.

10 Responses to Eco-Friendly Ways to Manage Tricky Trash
  1. Donielle @ Naturally Knocked Up
    September 5, 2008 | 6:41 am

    I always wondered what to do with all that stuff! Thanks for the info!

  2. sonnjea
    September 5, 2008 | 2:55 pm

    I’m just on my way to the year-round collection center to drop off my old, dead computer monitor. Most cities don’t allow electronics, especially TVs and monitors since they contain lead mercury, to go into the trash.

    Check out – you can type in the item you need to dispose of, along with your zipcode and it will spit out a list of locations in your area that will accept your trash.

  3. susan (5 Minutes for Mom)
    September 7, 2008 | 2:44 pm

    great suggestions
    My trouble with batteries is I often get them mixed up with new ones…and frustrate myself. But when I am more organized I send them to work with my husband to recycle there.

  4. Jessica
    September 7, 2008 | 3:53 pm

    Donnielle, my pleasure! I only wish people would ask questions about where to dispose of their tricky trash before tossing it to the curb.

    Sonnjea, thank you for pointing us to, an invaluable tool for recycling electronics and most anything really.

    Susan, you’re lucky your husband is easily able to recycle batteries at his workplace. That’s awesome!

  5. Abbie
    September 8, 2008 | 5:42 pm

    Be careful about companies that claim to recycle electronics and batteries. I took a nanotechnology course a few years ago and in it we learned about how many “green” companies send our electronics to developing countries where the policies are less strict. Often, “recycling” just means melting down components to get the valuable metals, then dumping the rest in a landfill. There was an article about a farmer in China using a wok to melt down computer parts. This is NOT safe considering that they contain mercury, cadmium, lead, and other toxic heavy metals. You want to really make sure that you know what the company is going to do with your recycled items. If they can’t give you a specific answer about where it goes and what will be done with the components, find somewhere else to recycle it.

  6. Jessica
    September 9, 2008 | 7:54 am

    Abbie, it is frightening to think that somewhere in China a worker is melting down batteries and other items intended for recycling. At the same time, it also frustrates and sickens me that corporations in the U.S. participate in furthering such abuses against our environment.

    I like your suggestion of asking a company where it sends recycled items; at the same time, it has been my experience in many retail places that the associates do not know much about a company aside from the duties required of their actual job. I suppose inquiring minds may go a step further and write to companies and find departments who manage the recycling programs and its details. Do you have any suggestions on how to go about doing this? Have you contacted any retailers before turning in recycled items? What recycling drop-off centers do you recommend?

    Thank you again for the info!

  7. Abbie
    September 13, 2008 | 9:35 pm

    Hmmm… let’s see. I honestly haven’t had to get rid of a battery in years. I use rechargable ones. So I have no tips there…

    In terms of computers, I donate them to my school. I brought my old PC in, they completely erased the hard drive, and then reloaded everything they needed for the kids at school. I also have an old laptop that doesn’t work, but I’ve been hanging onto it in hopes that I can find someone to fix it up and I’ll use it in my classroom.

    So I guess my tips would be to NOT throw out or recycle, but find alternatives? Sorry I couldn’t be more help to those in need!

    And I second your opinion that most associates don’t know much more than their job… When I took the course I mentioned in the above comment, the goal was to find a company to recycle an old disk drive that contained lead, mercury, cadmium and some other BAD stuff. We did find a small, locally based company that could tell us exactly where the technology was recycled. If it stays in the US, you pretty much know that there are strict recycling regulations to follow. If it goes to another country without such strict regulations, then all bets are off…

  8. […] Jessice over at 5 Minutes for Going Green has a great post about what to do with tricky trash […]

  9. Ida
    September 29, 2008 | 8:42 am

    Locate your community medication donation or take-back program. I simply asked the pharmacist at our local C.V.S. if I might drop off old prescriptions, and she verified that our C.V.S. pharmacy accepts the return of unused prescription pills.

  10. Jessica
    September 29, 2008 | 9:44 am

    Thanks Ida! I actually did the same thing and learned that our local C.V.S. takes back left over, unused meds too.