This past winter has surely been a wild one. Atlanta froze over, a plane disappeared (and continues to be disappeared), and Russia decided to kick it Cold War style by invading & annexing the Crimea. But let’s leave all that mess behind us and focus on what really matters now that Spring is here: cleaning.
Yes, it’s time to stop ignoring that growing pile of newspapers and junk mail that you are keeping in the crawlspace, as well as all the junk that somehow ended up in your basement over the long winter months. However, before you start tearing through all the rooms in your house looking for deposits for the dumpster, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the household items you shouldn’t be putting in the dumpster.
1. Fluorescent Lamps – Though incandescent light bulbs are generally safe to throw away, their energy efficient cousins are not. Fluorescent lamps, or tubes, use mercury vapor to produce ultra-violet light, which is converted to visible light upon passing through the phosphor coating of the tube. Since these bulbs contain mercury, the EPA recommends that they be kept separate from normal trash and recycling. In many states, these bulbs must be diverted from landfills through municipal collection drives or special pickup from trash collection services.
Though 99% of the mercury inside of a lamp is contained inside the phosphor coating, there is still a chance that some of the vapor will be emitted if the bulb is broken. If you break a fluorescent tube, air out the room and use a wet paper towel to clean up the pieces and smaller glass particles. Place all the glass and paper towels inside of a sealed plastic bag and dispose of it according to local regulations.
2. Electronics – Electronic waste, or e-waste, usually consists of items that should not be placed in a landfill. The circuit boards found in laptops, cell phones, and video game consoles can contain lead, cadmium, and an assortment of other heavy metals. Disposing of these items at a landfill runs the risk of leaching these metals into the surrounding soil and water table. For this reason, many cities, as well as states, bar electronics from being disposed of in the usual manner. Instead, consumers are advised to dispose of their old electronics through local recycling companies.
3. Smoke Detectors – You’ve probably never thought about how to dispose of smoke detectors, but they do in fact fall within the category of hazardous waste. Ionization smoke detectors use Americium-241, a radioactive isotope, to detect the presence of smoke. Though not all smoke detectors use this method, it is still a prevalent design for residential use. If your smoke detector uses ionization, be sure to dispose of it according to your city’s guidelines. Most cities conduct annual collection drives for old smoke detectors, as well as other hazardous waste.
4. Batteries – Though you might argue that batteries fall under the category of e-waste, its worth listing these little nuggets of chemical energy separately. Batteries are used in virtually every electronic device you can think of, and most of them contain metals and chemicals that are better off being handled by recyclers, rather than the guys at the landfill. Recycling old batteries is easy enough, just look up the recycling location closest to you and drop them off!
5. Cleaners – Almost every household cleaning spray is considered hazardous waste. You should never throw out filled, or even partially filled, spraying solutions. As with other hazardous waste, disposing of these products in regular trash cans can contaminate landfills. Therefore, make sure you use up any cleaning supplies before tossing the container away, or follow your city’s guidelines for properly disposing of the chemicals.
This season, make sure your spring cleaning keeps with the spirit of renewal and cleanliness by placing these common household items where they belong. Both your family, and the environment, will thank you for it.