For Your Safety, Never Throw These Household Items In The Garbage

Throwing items in the trash is often a mindless task. Who would want to think about garbage? However, some objects will poison people, explode, or catch on fire when you carelessly toss them in the dumpster.

Some products release chemicals into the soil and air, harming the environment. Others may release radioactive fumes that sicken employees. And depending on what you throw away, you could cause a landfill fire. This is why many products should not be discarded; in some cases, it’s illegal. Here are the household objects that you should NEVER throw away.

Never Throw Old Clothes In The Trash

Clothes lie on the ground in the Sonoran desert.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

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, Flammable, And Illegal To Discard

Used ink cartridges lie in the trash.
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David Caudery/Digital Camera Magazine/Future via Getty Images

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. 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.

Batteries Could Leak Toxic Metals

An employee holds recycled batteries in a recycling plant.
Nail FattakhovTASS via Getty Images
Nail FattakhovTASS via Getty Images

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.

Pause Before Tossing Medications

An empty, discarded prescription bottle lies in a river.
Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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 Thousands Of Landfill Fires

An employee sorts through recycled laptops.
Getty Images
Getty Images

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 Highly Poisonous

A plastic container of motor oil lies discarded near a storm drain.
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

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.

Old Smoke Detectors Could Release Radiation

A broken smoke detector hangs from a ceiling.
Gabe Souza/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Gabe Souza/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

When smoke detectors die and start beeping, you may be tempted to stop the noise and throw it away immediately. But you can–and should–recycle smoke detectors. They contain an ionization chamber, a radioactive center that alerts the machine of smoke. Although the radioactivity is small, it could hurt people if handled carelessly.

Recycle Nation advises owners to contact the original company. Some businesses will take their dead smoke detectors back. If not, U.S. Postal Service should lend you a list of recycling centers and how to package the machine safely.

Aerosol Cans Might Explode

Three cans of L'Oreal hairspray are seen.
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Newscast/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Whether you have a can of hairspray, sunscreen, or air freshener, aerosol cans are highly pressurized. Throwing away a can with liquid still inside of it is asking for danger. In high heat, they can explode. This chemical explosion 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.

Why It’ll Cost You To Throw Away A Mattress

An abandoned mattress lies in front of a graffitied wall.
Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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.

Glass Shards Are Still Dangerous In The Trash

Broken glass on a windowpane is seen.
Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images
Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Glass shards will hurt anyone who holds them. Think about employees or sanitation workers who handle trash–they could get cut and receive an infection! Don’t toss glass into the trash carelessly. Make it safe for workers first.

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 it with tape. For a broken mirror, shield the surface with tape. This will also make handling the glass safer for you.

Why It’s Illegal To Throw Away Paint

Paint brushes hover over tin cans.
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although some people safely handle paint every day, it can become hazardous once in the garbage. The chemicals can harm sanitation workers and contaminate septic tanks. In some areas, it’s illegal to throw away 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. Dry it thoroughly before discarding it in the trash.

Never Pour Hot Oil Down The Sink

A worker safely disposes of cooking oil.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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.

Matches Can Still Catch Fire In Landfills

One match is burning next to several other matches.

You may not need some matches, but they can still start fires. Unused matchbooks only need to rub against something to light, causing a garbage or landfill fire. Although matches don’t contain toxic chemicals, they should still be handled with care.

Fortunately, matches become obsolete while in water. You can douse the matchbook in water before throwing it away. However, once the matches dry, they can still ignite. To be extra safe, place the matches in a ziplock bag and fill the bag with water.

The Dangers Of Chargers

Chargers, cables, and phones lie discarded in a cardboard box.
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Tessa Bunney/In Pictures via Getty Images Images

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.

Even Dull Knives Should Be Wrapped

A rusty knife lies on the ground.
Jerry Redfern/LightRocket via Getty Images
Jerry Redfern/LightRocket via Getty Images

Even if your knife seems too dull to cut someone, never put it in a garbage bag. Whether you’re throwing away one small knife or a set of knives, pause before you toss it. Even dull ones can cut a person or another unsafe material, such as a mercury thermometer.

Safely secure your knives before tossing them. Wrap the blade with thick paper or a towel, and wrap it in tape. Then, place your knife or knives in a cardboard box. Label the box before leaving it in the dumpster.

Did You Know That You Can Recycle Your TV?

Unwanted televisions lie in a giant pile.
BuildPix/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images
BuildPix/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

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.

Never Break A Light Bulb In The Garbage

A wet light bulb appears in front of a landfill.
China Photos/Getty Images
China Photos/Getty Images

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 Incandescent light bulbs can be thrown away since they are nontoxic..

Metals From Hair Styling Tools Are Often Reused

A curling iron and its cables lie against a white background
Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Stefan Rousseau – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

According to Conair, a standard curling iron lasts up to two years. Other hair styling tools, such as dryers, also die after a while. Toxic-Free Future advises against throwing them away, saying that electrical items can release chemicals that harm the environment.

Recyclers will take hair tools apart and recycle useful metals. According to Eco-Cycle, recyclers can reuse around 50% of the metals, which significantly helps the environment. Some companies will come to you for electronic recycling. Websites such as InStyler will tell you where and how to recycle hair tools.

Use All Of Your Laundry Detergent

A woman pours laundry detergent into a washing
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Do you have useless, expired laundry detergent? Don’t throw it in the trash. 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. Rinse out the container before disposing of it. You can also donate old detergents. If you can’t do either of those, pour leftover detergent down the drain. It’ll clean your pipes instead of rotting in a landfill.

Beware Of Poisonous Mercury Thermometers

A mercury thermometer shows the temperature outside in Berlin.
GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images
GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images

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.

Be Careful About How You Dispose Of Your Mail

Computer garbage and junk mail. 18 February 2003. AFR GENERIC Picture by ROB H
Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images
Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

It’s no secret that mail has personal information on it that you want to be wary of sharing. While you may already be sure to shred things that have your social security number on it, those unwanted credit card applications and billing statements are also dangerous to toss out.

Anything that has your address, phone number, or any other identifying information could be used for fraudulent activity. To be safe, use a criss-cross shredder that ensures people won’t be able to put the bits of paper back together.

It’s Best To Get Rid Of Lighter Fluid At A Hazardous Waste Site

Niclas Petersson/Pixabay
Niclas Petersson/Pixabay

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.

The Same Goes For Lighters

Project wants to recycle discarded lighters
Lisa Ducret/picture alliance via Getty Images
Lisa Ducret/picture alliance via Getty Images

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.

Old Bicycles Can Be Refurbished

Bicycles from Main salvaged
Andreas Arnold/picture alliance via Getty Images
Andreas Arnold/picture alliance via Getty Images

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 To Garbage Workers

Women's hands placing pins in handmade quilt to prepare it for sewing, Severn, Maryland.
Edwin Remsberg / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Edwin Remsberg / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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.

An Old American Flag Should Be Buried

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

If your American flag has been through the wringer, the last thing you want to do is toss it in the trash. Doing so can be seen as a disrespectful act towards the country. The US Flag Code states that they should ideally be burned.

However, setting the flag on fire can be dangerous, notably because of the chemicals it may contain, especially in nylon or polyester variations. To be respectful and safe, you can fold the flag in the ceremonial triangle and bury it in the ground.

Many Stores Will Pickup Old Large Appliances

Broken washing machines collected for recycling
Mediacolors/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images
Mediacolors/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

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.

Old Tools Can Be Donated Or Recycled

Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

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 And Tablets Can Contain Toxic Substances

old mobile phones
Lisa Ducret/picture alliance via Getty Images
Lisa Ducret/picture alliance via Getty Images

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 Contain Hazardous Materials

Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post via Getty Images

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!

Old Pots And Pans

Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

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.

Break Down Or Donate Old Swingsets

Little Girl On A Swing
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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.

Don’t Throw Out Or Recycle Books

Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance via Getty Images
Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance via Getty Images

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.

Put Plants And Food Items Into The Compost

Joko/Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Joko/Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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 Are Hazardous Materials

Orlando, Ace Hardware, Ortho, Spectracide
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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.

Use Old Ice Trays For Small Tool Parts


If your toolbox is getting cluttered with various plastic containers full of tails or you’re always finding little tool pieces in miscellaneous drawers, then ice cube trays may be the perfect solution! Rather than tossing the trays the minute you get a fridge with an icemaker, repurpose them.

You can fill each slot with different kinds of small tools to stay organized. This DIY mastermind even constructed a wooden dresser to house all of the trays.

Keep Your Silverware Organizer In Place With A Pool Noodle


If you’ve collected one too many pool noodles over the years, or don’t mind cutting one a little short, you can use a piece of it to keep your silverware organizer in place. Since these compartments are often smaller than the drawer, they can end up sliding all over the place.

A simple fix is to take that pool noodle you were considering throwing out and cut a piece off that will fit snuggly behind the organizer.

Use Paper Towel Tubes To Extend Your Vacuum Hose


You know that cylinder of cardboard that’s leftover after you pull off the last paper towel? Even that can be reused! If you find that your vacuum cleaner hose is just a little too short, you can add the cardboard cylinder to it!

The shape and size make it a perfect fit for many vacuum hoses. Plus, the carboard is malleable enough that it can conform to match the end of the hose. Use some duct tape to hold it on and simply remove it after use.

Use A Milk Carton As A Scooper


If you have a pet that eats kibble or buy any other dry foods in bulk, you may benefit from turning an old milk carton into a scooper. A half-gallon, plastic carton tends to be the most ideal size and material.

Once you’ve finished the milk, wash out the container, and cut off the bottom half. Be sure you keep the lid on so you can use the top half, which has the handle.

Use A Hose Reel For Christmas Lights


If you’ve just replaced your hose reel and don’t know what to do with the old one, consider using it to keep Christmas lights organized. The lights are so lightweight that they will likely work even on a broken hose reel.

As with a hose, the hose reel will make it much easier to wrap and unravel the lights. It also makes for easy storage since holiday decorations only come out once a year.