How to Recycle the Hazardous Stuff

You know how to recycle paper, plastic and aluminum, but what about paint cans, batteries, cell phones and the chemicals you use to clean your home?

By Reader's Digest Editors

1. CFL bulbs

To conserve energy, you chose to illuminate your home the sustainable way, with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which require less power and last considerably longer than incandescent bulbs. But when CFLs eventually do burn out, how do you dispose of them? Because they contain toxic mercury, which can be released into the environment when they break, CFLs shouldn’t be disposed of with household trash or recycled with glass. Instead, visit to find out whether your bulbs can be collected by or dropped off at a local waste removal agency. Several hardware and home store chains also have CFL recycling programs, including Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, and Ikea.

2. Car batteries

Most cars run on lead-acid batteries. While those two ingredients may not sound particularly planet-friendly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, almost 90 percent of lead-acid batteries are recycled. Bring yours to an automotive store or repair shop that sells them, and the batteries will be sent to a reclaimer who separates the plastic from the lead and sells both for reuse in new batteries.

3. Dry-cell batteries

Dry-cell batteries are what’s used to power most of our cord-free toys and home appliances. Button, AAA, AA, C, D, and 9-volt are all varieties of dry-cell batteries, which fall into two categories: Single use Single use batteries come in several varieties, including alkaline, carbon-zinc, lithium, nickel-cadmium (NiCad), mickel metal hydride (NiMH), and button cell (lithium manganese). All contain elements or heavy metals that can become environmental hazards when they end up in dumps and waste treatment facilities. Not all states require recycling of single use batteries, but there are local battery recycling agencies in most cities and towns. Do a quick Internet search to find one near you. Rechargeable Rechargeable batteries last longer than their single-use predecessors, but they still contain environmental toxins. Visit to find a drop off location in your neighborhood -- so far this year the program, operated by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), has recycled nearly 6 million pounds of rechargeable batteries.

4. Paint and paint cans

Paint itself is not recyclable, but it does contain chemicals that are pollutants and potentially hazardous chemicals. Your best option is to use or donate all of your paint. If that’s not possible, contact your local household hazardous waste collection program or do an Internet search for paint disposal in your area.

Empty paint cans can be recycled, however, as long as there’s no more than ¼-inch of paint left at the bottom. Cans should be brought to a scrap metal recycling drop-off facility rather than included with curbside recycling, so as not to contaminate food-grade materials. Find one near you online.

5. Cell phones

In most cases, recycling a cell phone means donating it to a worthy cause. Next time you upgrade, free up some storage space and bring that drawer full of older models to your local wireless retailer (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, LG, Sony, Best Buy) or big box office supply store (Staples, Office Depot). Many charities and local government offices also accept cell phone donations, and this information can usually be found online.

7. Household cleaners and containers

Unless they’re labeled non-toxic, many household cleaners contain potentially hazardous chemicals. Before disposing of one, read the label for instructions -- many products that include toxins will provide them. If not, determine whether the cleaner is water-soluble (mixes with water), and if it is, pour it down the drain under running water. Sponges, wipes, and mop-heads can be thrown in the trash. For products that contain harsher chemicals, such as oven cleaners and drain openers, contact the manufacturer for disposal instructions if none are provided. In many areas, household cleaner containers can be recycled curbside, but it’s a good idea to check your local recycling guidelines to be sure.


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