There are a lot of rules about what items you can and can’t throw away. There are also rules about how to dispose of certain dangerous objects, and what garbage bins certain materials belong in. All of these guidelines exist to keep us and our garbage collectors safe. You don’t want to accidentally start a fire or cause anyone to get hurt.
Keep reading to find out which products should not be discarded and why. These are the household objects that you should NEVER throw in the trash.
Burnt Matches Are Still A Fire Hazard
Matches still have the potential to catch on fire even after you’ve used them. There are still so many chemicals in those match tips. Also, the flammable strip on the side of matchboxes can cause problems in your garbage can.
Fortunately, matches become totally safe after they’re doused in water. To be extra safe, place the matches in a ziplock bag and fill the bag with water. That way there’s no chance of a fire breaking out.
Be Very Careful With Glass Shards
If a glass breaks in your home, be very careful about the way you dispose of the shards. You don’t want to get hurt while you’re taking out the trash, and you don’t want to accidentally harm any of our hardworking garbage men and women.
Penn Waste recommends concealing the glass in something. Seal the shards inside of a paper bag or cardboard box. If you can’t find any of these, wrap the fragments in a soft cloth and cover them with tape.
Recycle Your Hair Styling Tools
Straighteners and curling irons do have a shelf life. Some of them last longer than others but for the most part, you may have to invest in a new one every few years. If your electric hair tool stops working, don’t just toss it in the garbage. These electrical items can release chemicals that harm the environment.
You’re better off recycling old hair straighteners, dryers, and curlers. Recyclers will take hair tools apart and recycle useful metals.
All Knives Should Be Wrapped
You may be throwing away an old knife because it isn’t sharp anymore, but even so, you should take care to make sure that a dull knife doesn’t accidentally stab anybody.
Safely secure your knives before tossing them. Wrap the blade with thick paper or a towel, and then wrap it in tape. Then, place your knife or knives in a cardboard box. Label the box before leaving it out on the curb. It takes some extra work, but it’s worth it to keep people safe.
Use Every Last Drop Of Your Laundry Detergent
You should be using every last drop of your laundry detergent because it’s valuable stuff, but also because leftover detergent can seriously harm the environment. Detergents are toxic and can harm peoples’ skin and eyes. According to the EPA, the chemical 1,4-Dioxane (found in most detergents) may cause cancer.
The best way to get rid of detergent is to use the entire container. Also, make sure to rinse out the container before putting it in your recycling bin.
Aerosol Cans Can Spontaneously Combust
Aerosol cans contain products that are under extreme pressure, which means they could explode if they come in contact with a heat source. Even if you think that your spray can is empty, it may not be. Chemical explosions could fling metal at employees or machines in landfills.
Before throwing a spray can away, ensure that it’s empty. If it makes a sloshing noise when you shake it, don’t toss it. Do not puncture a hole to check. If you’re unsure, take the can to a Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facility.
Be Careful With Your Mail
You have to be super careful when you throw away or recycle old mail. Your mail has to identify information and your address all over it. It may also contain other sensitive information like your credit card information or health records. The best way to dispose of old mail is to run it through a paper shredder.
A criss-cross shredder ensures people won’t be able to put the bits of paper back together. You could also just shred the mail with your hands.
Bury American Flags
If you have an American flag that’s faded or torn and you think it’s time for a new one, you can’t just throw the old one in the trash. It’s seen as disrespectful to the country. The US Flag Code states that they should ideally be burned.
If you don’t have a safe space to conduct a proper flag burning, you can also bury your flag. This is usually the safer option because flags contain chemicals that are harmful to breathe in when burned.
It’s Illegal To Throw Away Paint
Paint contains so many harmful chemicals that it’s actually illegal to just throw it in the garbage. The chemicals found in paint can harm sanitation workers and contaminate septic tanks. If you need to get rid of unused paint, businesses such as Habitat for Humanity and PaintCare will pick up old paint and dispose of it safely.
Instead of throwing away paint, donate it or save it for later. If you absolutely must throw it away, let the paint dry first. Combine it with cat litter, newspaper, or paint hardener.
How Old Smoke Detectors Can Release Radiation
Is there anything more annoying in the world than a broken smoke detector that won’t stop beeping? It can be tempting to just throw the whole thing in the garbage when the beeping won’t quit. However, you can–and should–recycle smoke detectors. They contain an ionization chamber, a radioactive center that alerts the machine of smoke. Yes, it’s a small amount of radioactivity, but it’s enough that it could pose a safety risk if it’s not handled carefully.
Recycle Nation advises owners to contact the original company when they’re ready to get rid of their old smoke detector.
Don’t Toss Your Old Clothes
Old clothes make up the bulk of landfills, and they only add to pollution. In 2013 alone, Americans disposed of 15 million clothes, and 85% end up in landfills. According to Yale University, clothes release greenhouse gases as they decay. Every time you throw out a clothing item, you contribute to global warming.
Morton Barlaz, a civil, construction, and environmental engineering professor at North Carolina State advises people to recycle clothes as much as possible. Instead of throwing them away, donate unused clothing to charity.
Ink Cartridges Are Toxic
Every year, 375 million toner and ink cartridges end up in landfills. The unused inks can melt and harm the environment or react with other chemicals. According to Office Technologies, ink chemicals are hazardous and can deteriorate nearby trash. They are also flammable, which makes them illegal to throw away in many states.
Fortunately, the average ink cartridge can be reused multiple times. Earth911.com will direct you to a recycling center near you. Some stores, such as Staples, will pay you a few bucks for every recycled ink cartridge.
Be Careful With Medications Bottles
Think twice before throwing away prescription medication. Some people rummage through garbage cans for medication theft and abuse. Plus, some drugs can be safely flushed down the toilet, according to the FDA. Check their website to learn if your medication can be flushed down the toilet.
If you have to dispose of pills, never crush them. They could be unsafe to inhale. Instead, mix them with an unpalatable substance, such as dirt or coffee grounds. Pack them in a ziplock bag, and remove all labels from the bottles. According to BeMedWise, this will prevent people from robbing drugs.
Used Laptops Cause Landfill Fires
Even if you don’t use your laptop anymore, never throw it away. Not only can it possibly be fixed, but trashing it could be dangerous. According to Greenpeace, laptops contain many toxic chemicals. Toxins like arsenic can leak into water in landfills. Their lithium batteries are highly explosive, and it causes thousands of landfill fires every year.
If your laptop is less than five years old, you can likely resell it (as long as you wipe the memory drive first). If not, recycle it. Log onto the Earth911 website and find a drop-off location near your zip code. Bring the accessories such as mice and chargers.
Motor Oil Is Toxic
In most U.S. states, it’s illegal to throw away motor oil or pour it into the ground. Motor oil is considered a major toxic pollutant. According to Poison Control, motor oil reacts dangerously with high heat and other chemicals. You could receive a fine for putting it in the trash, pouring it into the soil, or sending it down the toilet.
Like many items on the list, you should take motor oil to a certified collection center (CCC). Many places allow you to leave motor oil on the curb, as long as it’s securely packaged. If the oil is contaminated, take it to a toxic waste disposal center.
The Problem With Mattresses
Are mattresses dangerous? No. However, they are too bulky for landfills. According to American Bedding Manufacturers, mattresses cannot be compressed and can clog machines. They are more expensive to throw away than other trash; some states will even fine you for disposing of one. Plus, bare mattresses quickly become rife with bed bugs and other insects.
Whether your mattress has boxsprings or foam, it can be recycled. Find a facility through websites like Earth 911 and Bye Bye Mattress. Many companies will haul a mattress for you.
Don’t Pour Hot Oil Down The Sink
If your pans have hot oil or grease after cooking, don’t pour it down the sink. Oil clings to pipes in your drain. Over time, grease can block your sewage system, leading to clogs and flooding. Don’t pour it in the trash can, either; hot oil can burn right through a trash bag.
So what can you do? The Department of Sanitation recommends letting the oil cool first. Then, pour the oil into a container or plastic bag. Seal the container before throwing it away. Then, wipe the oily pan with a paper towel or piece of bread.
Chargers Pose Serious Risks
Nowadays, almost everyone has a house full of cables. When your chargers break, they carry the same harm as other electronics: containing heavy metals that could harm others and the environment. Instead of tossing cables in the garbage, find a recycling center.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists recycling centers around your area. Best Buy and Staples often allow people to drop off old electronics. You can also see if your cables (or the metals inside of them) are worth something. Capital Scrap Metal or InvestmentMine will explain what your products are worth.
Recycle Your TV
Like many pieces of technology, televisions contain toxic chemicals. According to Time, heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium can leak out of old TVs. For this reason, some garbage pickup services will refuse to take televisions.
So what else can you do? For one, you can donate it. If that isn’t possible, search for a recycling site. Specific recycling sites will even pay you a bit for them. Some businesses will accept old TVs as well; Best Buy will pick up two old TVs if you purchase a new one from them.
Don’t Break A Light Bulb In The Garbage
Because light bulbs can easily shatter, they are dangerous to handle. But more hazards await if you throw one away. For one, a broken bulb can destroy a garbage bag. Also, broken light bulbs release gases that could react with other chemicals. Fluorescent light bulbs have mercury, which can poison both people and the environment.
Stores such as Lowes and Home Depot often allow customers to recycle light bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs should go to a HHW facility, which you can find Recycleabulb.com. Incandescent light bulbs can be thrown away since they are nontoxic..
Batteries Leak Toxic Waste
If you throw away old batteries, you may cause a health risk. Batteries are made from heavy metals (such as lead, cadmium, or sulfuric acid), which can harm people even when the battery is dead. They could leak and harm the environment, or they might overheat and cause a fire.
Certain batteries are more dangerous than others. For instance, primary batteries (such as AA) aren’t as hazardous as car batteries, says the CEO of Call2Recycle, Carl Smith. Store old batteries in a metal container and drive them to a recycling center. Best Buy, Home Depot, and Lowe’s all have spots to drop off dead batteries.
The Mercury In Thermometers Is Poisonous
Traditional thermometers are made with a poisonous chemical called mercury. The second it breaks, the thermometer will leak the toxin. Mercury is considered “hazardous waste.” According to the World Health Organization, even a small amount can harm the nervous system, lungs, eyes, skin, kidneys, and immune system.
Instead of tossing your thermometer, hunt down your local household hazardous waste facility. Place your thermometer in a container and fill it with sand, dirt, or cat litter. Seal it, and write “mercury–do not open” on the bag. If your thermometer breaks, check the EPA’s website for safe cleaning tips.
How To Get Rid Of Lighter Fluid
If you don’t have a use for a container of lighter fluid lingering around the house, it’s absolutely vital that you don’t just throw it away. Give it to a friend or neighbor or head to a hazardous waste facility to avoid being the cause of an accidental landfill fire.
If the container is empty, it is recyclable. However, this means that there is no residue inside the container. When in doubt, it’s best to opt for a hazardous waste facility to save everyone a bit of trouble.
How To Get Rid Of Lighters
When it comes to lighters, they should be treated the same way as a can of lighter fluid. That’s to say, they should be completely empty before being tossed into the trash, otherwise, they should be handled at a hazardous waste facility.
That means that if your lighter broke prematurely so you weren’t able to completely empty it, you shouldn’t toss it into the trash because lighter fluid could still leak out of it. Unfortunately, there are not yet programs in place to recycle old lighters, so the trashbin is where empty ones should go for now.
Refurbish Old Bicycles
Since bicycles are bulky and use up a variety of materials, it would be quite a waste to toss one into a large trash bin. Instead, it’s more environmentally friendly to hunt down a place that accepts used bicycles.
A professional can either repair the bicycle and resell it, or sell it for cheap to someone who can use the materials or fix up the two-wheeler. Call your local bike shops to see if they’ll take it or consider dropping it off at a secondhand store.
Needles Pose A Threat
Whether you use needles for medical treatments or have old sewing pins you no longer need, it’s imperative to dispose of these sharp objects in a safe manner. Needles can carry disease and can be harmful to garbage workers if thrown in the trash.
The FDA states that these objects should be placed in a sharps disposal bin and then disposed of in accordance with local guidelines. This may mean taking them to a hazardous materials site, calling a special-waste pickup service, or dropping them off at a local health department.
Stores Will Pickup Large Appliances
Getting rid of large appliances like washing machines, ovens, or refrigerators can be a pain. Before you tweak your back trying to get the thing out to the street, consider asking a retailer to pick it up. Typically, the store you purchase a large appliance from will also pick up your old appliance.
This way, the company gets the parts from your former machine and you don’t have to worry about getting rid of it. Alternatively, some donation centers will go and pick up your donation for you for a small charge.
Donate Old Tools
Old tools are made to be sturdy, so the last thing you want to do is toss them in the trash where they’ll end up in a landfill for quite some time before decomposing. If the tools are still operable, consider donating them to a secondhand store.
Another option is to recycle them in accordance with your local guidelines. Some retailers will even take the tools off your hands and recycle them for you. You can even break them down and sell the scrap metal for a small profit.
Cell Phones Contain Toxic Substances
As with the other electronic devices listed, cell phones and tablets can also contain toxic substances that make them unsafe for the dumpster. Fortunately, many electronic or office stores will take and recycle these old devices for you.
Some retailers will even buy these items off of you. Others will give you a credit so you can trade them in for a discounted price on your next phone or tablet. It’s a win for you, the business, and the environment.
Some Space Heaters Are Hazardous
What to do with your old space heater depends entirely on what the machine was made from. Space heaters that are made of plastic and do not contain hazardous materials can be tossed out.
Similar variations that are metal can be sold for scrap. However, if there are any hazardous materials in the item, it’s important to take it to the proper facility. You can always contact the retailer to be safe. If the item still works but you no longer need it, consider donating it!
The Deal With Old Pots And Pans
If your pots and pans are deteriorating and no longer okay to cook with, don’t simply toss them into the trash. Though they aren’t hazardous, they are often made with metal that can be sold for cash!
Even ones that are coated in nonstick materials can be recycled. Just be sure you specify to a worker what kind of pan it is because the nonstick layer will need to be scraped off before it’s recycled.
Donate Old Swingsets
Swingsets are perfect for little kids, but once there aren’t any children running around the house, they can be a waste of space. Rather than chopping the thing up and putting it in the trash, consider donating it.
Individuals, parks, schools, shelters, and other organizations may be able to benefit from the structure. Alternatively, you can break it apart and bring the pieces to a recycling facility to ensure that all of the parts are properly utilized.
Donate Old Books
When you think about all that goes into making a book, it doesn’t seem right to just throw it in the garbage. At the same time, recycling them takes up unnecessary time and resources considering someone may love reading the very book that’s now destroyed.
That’s why donating books is the most ideal option. There are countless ways to do this, from reselling them online to dropping them off at a local library. Another option is to start a neighborhood library by setting up a curbside table or case that encourages others to take a book and leave a book.
Learn How To Compost
Some think of the compost bin as only used for gardening purposes, like rose stems or tree clippings. In actuality, you should be putting any kind of organic waste possible in there, from banana peels to eggshells.
Doing so cuts down significantly on the about of trash that goes to landfills. Most importantly, it helps facilitate a cyclic ecosystem so that as much as possible goes to use. Just be sure that you place the items directly into the trash bin, not in bags, to avoid polluting the compost with plastic.
Mothballs And Other Pesticides
As with lighter fluid, pesticides contain toxic chemicals that are too hazardous for your regular trash bin. Though mothballs may not seem dangerous, they do fall into the pesticide category and therefore need to be disposed of via a hazardous material site.
Mothballs are a perfect example of something that may not immediately seem like a threat when thrown away, but still can be. That’s why it’s important to do a little bit of research whenever in doubt.
They may be more convenient than the electric razor alternative, as you don’t have to clean them or make sure they’re charged. But disposable razors can also be a magnet for bacteria, according to research from Infection Control Today.
Another precaution is making sure that you don’t over-use these razors past the lifetime they’re intended for. After three shaves, you’re susceptible to skin rashes and irritation. So don’t forget to swap them out or prepare to suffer the consequences.
Toss Your Toothpaste
Cosmetic dentist Sean Tomalty says toothpaste is something people don’t even realize can go bad. That’s a shocker because we rely on it to keep our smiles bright and our breath fresh! “After time, toothpaste will become ineffective, and the ingredients will begin to separate and crystalize,” Tomalty explains.
It’s not so much of an immediate threat, as the separation usually happens after two years. If you do happen to wait to use your paste after some time, “You’ll expose yourself to oral conditions and ailments which could become larger health concerns,” says Tomalty.
Toothbrushes Have A Shelf Life
What good is toothpaste without a proper toothbrush? Well, since they don’t have an expiration date, you might feel that you can use them for an extended time. However, there is a golden time frame, after which, you should be switching out your toothbrush.
Shahrooz Yazdani, DDS, of Yazdani Family Dentistry, says, “Changing your toothbrush every four months or so is important, particularly if you’ve had a cold in that span because minuscule germs will have developed on the bristles of your brush.” Set a reminder on your phone to help you remember to change yours.
Spices can be expensive, so many of us will want to hold onto them so long as there is still some left. Maybe you bought a new spice for a specific recipe and haven’t touched it in a year. Is it still good?
Speaking of spices, Jocelyn Nadua, RPN, care coordinator at C-Care Health Services said, “They can last for multiple years, typically in the three-to-four-year range, but after that, they lose their potency and can cause some digestive problems.” They won’t put you in the grave, but you will end up on the toilet.
Eye Drops Expire
Sometimes, eye drops can save you from the most irritating dry eye scenario. It’s convenient to have some around the house but be wary of keeping it around longer than their expiration date recommends.
“Eye drops are generally formulated with a preservative that keeps the product sterile for 28 days after breaking the seal,” says Erin Nance, MD. The best practice would be to toss the bottle four weeks after you’ve opened it up. There’s a chance that it can cause a bacterial infection!
Canned Goods Don’t Stay Good Forever
Canned goods have a longer shelf life than produce, but these have an expiration date, too. Typically, the lifespan of canned food is between one to four years when stored properly, in a dark, cool space.
“Many people feel canned items can last ‘forever.’ Not so!” says Lisa Lewis, MD, a pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas. “Never used canned foods after the expiration date.” Lewis further warned that if you digest spoiled canned food, you may get food poisoning symptoms.
If you prefer your wine out of boxes, then this is for you. Wine does improve with age, but you can’t say the same about the packaged or boxed version. If it’s in a box, then it has an expiration date, usually six to eight months after purchase.
While most boxes don’t pose a threat because of the polyethylene, others contain Bisphenol (BPA). That’s a chemical which could lead to fertility problems and heart disease.
Mouthwash Lasts A Few Years
Another hygiene product that you’ll want to keep track of is mouthwash. This product doesn’t spoil after a few weeks or months, it actually can last a few years, which is a decent shelf life.
Cosmetic dentist Sean Tomalty says, “Mouthwash containing alcohol is an antiseptic, but in time that can dissolve and become ineffective after two to three years.” You have plenty of time to use it all before that happens!
Expired Vegetable Oil
Expired vegetable oil is one product that you want to be hyper-aware of. University of Massachusetts professor Eric Decker explains that spoiled vegetable oil develops dangerous compounds related to neurological disorders, cancer, and heart disease.
Generally, vegetable oil expires around six months after you open the seal, and should be tossed out. Signs of the product going bad includes a bitter smell, change in color, or becoming cloudy. It’s safer to purchase a smaller bottle if you don’t use vegetable oil regularly.
Sunscreen Lasts Three Years
The general rule of thumb is that sunscreen lasts for three years, but this doesn’t take into account how long it’s been sitting on a store shelf.
The FDA requires that all sunscreens include an expiration date on the packaging, but sometimes it might be hard to locate. “If you’re struggling to find a date on the packaging, make a note of the month and year you bought the product,” says Daniel Atkinson, a UK-based general practitioner and clinical lead at Treated.com.
Be Careful With Skincare Products
Expired face products can cause infections, breakouts, or other skin reactions. “When you have a skincare product, use it consistently until you have no more so that you don’t use it later when the product has lost its effectiveness or can be harmful,” says Alain Michon, MD, medical director at Ottawa Skin Clinic.
Most skincare products should be tossed out six to twelve months after opening to eliminate risk. Purchasing a smaller bottle might be the way to go.
Toss Loofahs After 3-4 Weeks
A loofah is a sensational instrument to help clean our bodies. They’re convenient and offer a better clean than other alternatives. While that might be true, but you need to watch out for how often you swap it out for a new one.
“We use loofahs to exfoliate our skin, but if we don’t allow them to dry out, the dirt and dead skin cells on our bodies get stuck in the weave of the material,” says Atkinson, the UK practitioner. A study from 1994 revealed that loofas have the power to spread bacteria capable of giving you an infection! Dermatologists recommend that you throw out your loofah after three-to-four-weeks.
Eye Contact Cases
If you don’t fancy a nice pair of glasses and prefer contacts, watch out for those cases. It’s essential to develop a habit of changing your solution every time you use your contacts.
Also, Mark Bowers, an optometrist at Blountville Family Eyecare, says you need to switch out your cases every three months at the bare minimum. “Bacteria can form an invisible film lining on the lenses, which is called a biofilm. This biofilm protects the bacteria from the solution, thus increasing your risk of infection,” Bowers explains.
Throw Away Old Mascara
Using old mascara can be detrimental in many ways. Optometry, a medical journal, published a study in 2008 shedding light on mascara. The report found that three months after opening a new product, microbial growth contaminants 36.4 percent of the tubes.
The main one is Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus species, or you can also call it fungi. You can get eye infections or, in rare cases, damage your vision! It’d be best to swap your product every three months.
Sponges Collect Germs And Bacteria
A sponge spends lots of time cleaning your dirty dishes, and whatever else you decide to clean with it. Even if you’re adamant about rinsing and drying them, germs still build-up.
The best practice would be to change them out after two weeks of regular use. A 2017 study found that a sponge can lead to an increase of bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella. That doesn’t sound like anything you want to catch because you kept a sponge longer than you needed to.
Bleach Goes Bad
Bleach is a household product that families have been using for decades. It’s a favored disinfectant, but the expiration date might arrive quicker than you think. That might not what you would expect from something as powerful as bleach.
The Scripps Research Institute says that it starts to lose its potency about six months after opening it. While that on its own isn’t dangerous, expecting it to kill the same amount of bacteria is a cause for concern. Remain mindful of when you bought it.
Toss Old Shampoo And Conditioner
As with most products, you can tell when a shampoo or conditioner goes “bad.” There’s usually a change in the smell, consistency, or both. The Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers of shampoo and conditioner to print expiration dates onto packaging, but it does recommend that consumers ditch their bottles once they’ve been open for about 18 months (earlier if you notice something weird).
Not only are the products less effective at cleaning and conditioning at this age, but they can also spread bacteria onto your scalp, which opens the door for infection.
Pillows Get Nasty
How often do you replace your pillow? If it isn’t every one to two years, then you’re not following the recommended standards. The National Sleep Foundation explains that pillows absorb our dead skin cells, hair, and body oil.
All of that makes for a scary breeding ground for dust mites. Dust mites are scary triggers for those who have asthma and allergies. Also, if you use one for too long, it can become bad for your back and neck as well!
A Child’s Car Seat Can Deteriorate
A child’s car seat is critical for their safety. And while this product doesn’t have an expiration date on it, it’s important to note if the car seat materials are deteriorating.
Wear and tear is the downfall of a child’s car seat. Since they’re plastic, a material that becomes brittle over time, it’s possible that the seat won’t be in proper condition over time. Luckily, you’ve got a good six years before you can expect to change it out for a new one.
Giant Containers Of Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly is one of those products that’s useful for so many things around the house. But as you can imagine, giant tubs of the helpful stuff can go bad after a while. Part of the reason is that you have to dip your fingers into the tub to get the jelly out, which spreads bacteria.
Your best bet is to buy smaller containers and to toss any that have been hanging out in the medicine cabinet for years. Vaseline brand petroleum jelly containers do contain expiration dates, so pay attention to them!