By Lori Bongiorno
More from The Conscious Consumer blog
(Photo: Getty Images)It's hard to know what to do with cans of leftover paint or electronics that have seen better days. You know you shouldn't throw them in the trash, but they're not typically recycled at the curb. So how exactly do you get rid of them?
Luckily, if you're armed with the right info, it can be easier than you think to dispose of these things. It's worth any extra effort because many of the items on this list contain toxic chemicals that can contaminate the environment or cause other damage if not carefully disposed of.
The laws for disposing of household waste vary depending on where you live, but here are some general guidelines and resources:
Recycling rechargeable batteries is fairly easy. It's a good thing because throwing out lead-acid batteries is illegal in 41 states, according to Trey Granger at Earth911. Home Depot, Staples, Radio Shack, Best Buy, and many other retailers take them back free of charge.
There are fewer options for single-use batteries, but look for bins at your local library. Otherwise, your best bet is a nearby household hazardous waste (HHW) drop-off site.
Every retailer that takes back rechargeable batteries also accepts mobile phones, as do most wireless providers. For computers, cameras, televisions, and others it's worthwhile do a little homework because some stores charge fees depending on item and brand. Check out Best Buy, Staples, and Office Depot to see what's the best fit.
Some places, like Radio Shack, have trade-in programs where you can receive store credit for your old gadgets. You can also turn your old electronics into cash thanks to a growing number of websites designed to help you easily sell them.
This is among the harder items to dispose of, but it's still totally doable. Some ideas to try first: Do your best to make sure it gets used. Give it to a friend. Use it for primer. Donate it to a charity, such as Habitat for Humanity or a school theater group. If you can't reuse it, then search to see if you can recycle it.
If you just can't reuse it, you might need to throw dried paint in the trash if it's not against the law in your community. Remove the lid from a latex paint can and let it dry out until it's completely hard. Take any oil-based paints directly to your household hazardous waste center.
Fluorescent bulbs contain tiny amounts of mercury that can leach out if broken, so it's important to properly recycle them. Luckily, these energy-sipping light bulbs are relatively easy to get rid of. Just drop old bulbs off at any Home Depot or Ikea for free recycling, or search for other nearby solutions.
If you have absolutely no other options and must throw them in the trash, then the Environmental Protection Agency suggests sealing CFLs in two plastic bags before disposing.
Don't flush them down the toilet or pour them down the drain because tiny amounts of pharmaceuticals are making their way into our streams, rivers, and lakes. Your best bet is to find a program that will take back unused medications. Check with your local government to see if it's hosting a collection event. Ask if your pharmacy or HHW collection program will accept old prescription drugs.
Otherwise you'll have to throw them in the trash. Remove all personal info before chucking bottles to avoid identity theft. Crush pills and try these other tricks to make medicines unusable in case they accidentally get into the wrong hands.
6. Cooking oil
Bacon grease or cooking oil can clog up your pipes and ultimately back up sewer systems. Rinsing with hot water as you pour it down the drain won't help. Once that grease cools down, it solidifies and sticks to pipes. Your best bet is to absorb small amounts of grease with shredded paper or kitty litter before throwing in the trash.
7. Aerosol cans
Empty cans can be recycled fairly easily through your curbside program or at your local recycling facility. Partially full cans are harder to get rid of. Don't try to empty them yourself. Instead, see if your recycling or HHW drop-off center will take them.
It's also not a good idea to send pressurized cans (empty or not) to a landfill because they can explode if a fire breaks out.
Most retailers will take away your old refrigerator, dishwasher, or other large appliance when you purchase a new one. Also check with your municipality because many cities and towns offer free curbside pick-up. For small appliances, try Best Buy or Goodwill.
9. Packing materials
Bring packing peanuts and bubble wrap to a local mailing center (such as the UPS Store or Mail Boxes Etc) if you don't have room to store them for future use. You can also give them away by listing on Freecycle or in the free stuff section on Craigslist.
Here are tips for what to do with annoying clamshell packaging, non-paper FedEx envelopes, and more.
Return dead car batteries to the store where you are purchasing a new one and ask if they'll recycle it. If not, check with your local HHW center.
Environmental journalist Lori Bongiorno shares green-living tips and product reviews with Yahoo! Green's users. Send Lori a question or suggestion for potential use in a future column. Her book, Green Greener Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-smart Choices a Part of Your Life is available on Yahoo! Shopping and Amazon.com.