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10 things that are illegal to throw away — How to safely dispose of them instead

We’ve long been conditioned to separate our recyclables from regular trash and sort plastics, paper, and more. But some items don’t belong in your recycle bin or your trashcan.

We reported on a recent recall of an air freshener from a well-known brand sold at Walmart that involved deadly consequences. If you purchased this product, don’t throw it away! Tap or click here for the full story and safe handling instructions.

Many items you use every day have their own methods of safe disposal. Here are some common items and their proper way of disposal.

1. Household batteries

Batteries can be broken down into two broad categories: Single-use and rechargeable. Read on for examples of each and links to recycling or waste disposal resources.


  • Standard alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, 9 volts) that power your remote control, flashlight, clocks and other common household items can usually be thrown away in the trash. But check with local battery recyclers or state solid waste authority to be safe.
  • Button cell or coin batteries, which you’ll find in calculators, watches, hearing aids and car key fobs, can contain silver and mercury and should not be thrown away in the trash. They can be brought to battery recyclers or participating retailers that provide battery takeback services.


  • Lithium-ion and nickel-cadmium batteries are most commonly found in cellphones, laptops, tablets, digital cameras, power tools and smart toys. These batteries should never be tossed in the trash or placed in the recycle bin. They must be taken to separate recycling or household hazardous waste (HHW) collection centers.
  • Small sealed lead acid batteries are found in emergency devices, security systems, mobility scooters and other special-use items. These also need to be taken to special disposal centers.

To find more recycling and disposal information, go to this resource page at Earth911. Simply select the type of battery from the left drop-down menu, enter your ZIP code and you’ll get local solutions. Note that stores like Staples, Home Depot and Best Buy have battery dropoff programs.

2. Car batteries

Car batteries contain lead and acid, a severe environmental risk to humans and animals.

If you replace your battery at an auto shop, they should take the old one and dispose of it for you. This is the law in some jurisdictions and applies to retailers who sell car batteries even if they don’t sell you one or install one for you.

Check with big retailers such as AutoZone, Pep Boys, Advance Auto Parts, Walmart and even your local repair shops. They should be able to take your old car battery off your hands.

3. Smartphones and tablets

Unlike old phones, you can’t remove the battery from your smartphone or tablet. Because of this, you can’t simply throw it away in the trash, as the batteries can cause fires.

You can trade in your device when purchasing a new one. Most manufacturers will recycle it for free even if you don’t get credit for it. Check out Apple’s program, for example.

You can also check out the resource page at Earth911 for locations that will accept your old phone or tablet.

WARNING: Before turning in or recycling your old device, make sure to do a factory reset! Tap or click here for instructions on wiping your phone, computer and smart speaker before getting rid of them.

Don’t toss that phone just yet!

Rather than giving away your old device for recycling, why not find a new use for it yourself? Tap or click here to hear Kim’s tips on turning your phone, computer, tablet or laptop into a motion-activated camera.

RELATED: Use an iPad as a second computer monitor

4. Televisions

Your television contains glass, lead and other dangerous chemicals and should not end up in a landfill. Don’t just put your old TV on the curb.

Try calling your local Best Buy, Walmart and other electronics stores to see if they’ll accept old TVs for recycling. And if you’re having a new one delivered and installed, they should take the old one, though there may be a fee.

Call your local recycling facility or sanitation department for more information. They may schedule a pickup or direct you where to go. Donate it to a friend or charity if the TV is still functioning. Perhaps a local retirement home or school could use it.

5. Lighters

There’s still time to enjoy a good cookout or night under the stars. Either way, you’re going to want a fire. Just like batteries, there are disposable and reusable lighters:

Disposable lighters

  • Those cheap plastic lighters you can pick up just about anywhere can be safely thrown in the trash if they’re empty, though this depends on state laws. Don’t pour it down the sink if there’s still lighter fluid. Go outside and activate the lighter until the fluid is used. If it gets too hot, take a break and try later. In some jurisdictions, you need to take your lighter to a household hazardous waste site.

Reusable lighters

  • Zippos and butane utility lighters can be used repeatedly, but when it’s time to get rid of them, be careful. Make sure they’re empty before disposing of them and if you have leftover lighter fluid or butane, take that to your nearest household hazardous waste site. Again, never pour this stuff down any drain.

Search for your lighter, fluid and ZIP code at Earth911 for instructions and locations for disposal.

6. Motor oil

If you’re a DIYer who likes to change your vehicle’s oil, that’s great! But what to do with the old oil? It’s flammable and toxic and cannot be poured down any drain. Take it to your local automotive repair shop or gas station, and they should accept it. The same goes for Auto Zone or other big automotive retailers.

It’s important that you transport the oil safely. Don’t use milk cartons or water bottles. You can use the original containers your new oil came in or a container made of polyethylene.

7. House paint

Redecorating and renovating your house is fun, but leftover paint, which is flammable and toxic, must be disposed of properly. You can leave the can open until it dries and then take it to a recycling center or your local HHW facility.

8. Thermometers

Your old-school glass thermometer likely contains mercury, which is highly toxic to the environment and living things. Don’t throw it in the trash, and be careful not to break it.

Some universities will take old thermometers and may even give you a newer digital model. Or you can check your local HHW facility.

9. Medication

Expired medication can be dangerous or at least less potent, so you’re better off getting rid of it. Don’t flush pills down the toilet or throw them in the trash! They can get into the water supply and cause environmental havoc.

The FDA has a page full of resources on what to do with old medication. Some can be safely flushed, while others should be taken to a drug take-back location. Go here for more information.

RELATED: Check your medicine cabinet! How to find recalled drugs

10. Car tires

Car tires contain steel belts that can puncture landfills and contaminate the environment. When you get your tires changed at a shop, they should take your old ones (there may be a small fee).

If you have old tires lying around, most car dealerships and automotive retailers will take them for recycling, though you might have to pay for this service. You can also call your trash service to schedule a pickup.

You may also like: Replacing your old printer? One critical step you need to take before you throw it out or give it away

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