You recycle cans, bottles, and paper products. You compost. You ask for paper bags in lieu of plastic. (You may even tote around a reusable shopping bag.) But if you're tossing your electronics into the garbage, you're neglecting a big part of your environmental duties. Some items, like old cellphones or used paint, don't belong in a landfill, where they can leak harmful chemicals into the soil. Here's a list of some items that need to be disposed of properly.
Cans of Paint
In Oregon, California, and Connecticut, there exists legislation that requires paint companies to take back unwanted paint, both latex and oil-based. (Go to paintcare.org for more information.) If you live in other states, take oil-based paints to a hazardous-waste collection site; the cleaned cans can be recycled. Pour latex paints into a box filled with shredded paper or kitty litter; let it solidify, then discard in the trash.
In many states, it's illegal to throw your old electronics into the garbage. In fact, 25 states have legislation to address e-waste. If you have outdated cellphones, laptops, DVD players, TVs, and the like, head to Best Buy, Staples, or other electronics retailers that have in-store drop-off programs. Dell, Toshiba, and Apple also have take-back programs. Check with your town as well; it may sponsor collection days for electronics.
You can throw alkaline and lithium batteries into the trash, but rechargeable batteries, some of which contain hazardous waste like lead acid and nickel cadmium, should be recycled. Visit call2recycle.org to find a drop-off location near you.
Compact fluorescent (CFL) lightbulbs and other fluorescent bulbs contain mercury and thus shouldn't end up in a landfill. (If you live in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, it's actually against the law to discard them with your regular garbage.) Recycle yours at waste-collection agencies, local retailers that have recycling programs, and mail-back services. Go to search.earth911.com to find out where to take your used CFL bulbs.
Antifreeze, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and other car-related fluids contain hazardous waste and need to be disposed of properly. Some local automotive service centers will take back your unwanted motor fluids. You can also drop them off at a household hazardous-waste drop-off site near you.
If your thermometer is digital and uses a replaceable battery, you can safely throw it away in the trash. If you have a mercury thermometer or a digital one that uses a battery that can't be replaced (such batteries may have mercury in them), you should dispose of it properly. Go to earth911.com to find a collection program in your area.
Smoke alarms that are ionization based contain a very tiny amount of radioactive material (photoelectric types don't and can be thrown away as normal). Send an unwanted ionization detector back to its manufacturer, with a note indicating that it's for disposal. Some states have annual roundups of used smoke alarms. It's not illegal to throw them away, so if you have no other option, take out the batteries before you throw the alarm away.