Three of Rubicon’s waste diversion managers, Meredith Leahy, Ryan Cooper, and Chris Batterson, were recently quoted in Reader’s Digest on things you should never throw in the garbage. Here’s what they had to say.
“Disposing of paint improperly by tossing it in the trash can be harmful to the environment due to the chemicals and toxins within it that can damage both the land and air,” says Chris Batterson, Key Account Manager of Construction and Projects at Rubicon. “Unused or discarded paint can usually be dropped off at participating local paint suppliers, as well as at community non-profit organizations. Local municipalities will be sure to have guidelines for bringing it to your local facility.”
We use batteries for all sorts of things, which means we eventually end up with a big collection of dead batteries that need to be discarded. But think before you throw them in along with the rest of your unwanted stuff. “Rechargeable batteries are great initially, but when the cycle finally ends, the metals used to make them, including cobalt and lead, can be harmful to the Earth if disposed of improperly,” says Batterson. “Today, batteries can be dropped off not only at local municipal sites, but some retailers now offer in-store recycling boxes to ensure that batteries are recycled properly.”
One reason you shouldn’t toss your old tires in the trash? They can have a whole new life when they’re recycled and ultimately reused. “It is important to recycle tires, as there are outlets for them after they’ve fulfilled their initial intended use on a vehicle,” says Meredith Leahy, Waste Diversion Manager for Circular Solutions at Rubicon. “Tires can be used for tire-derived fuel, which can be used to help run different types of facilities. They can also be used as a tire-derived aggregate, which can be used for backfill in construction projects or components in road-stabilization projects. And ground rubber from tires can be used in different landscaping projects, rubberized asphalt, and other rubber products.”
Of course, electronic devices make our lives easier, and we tend to have a lot of them in our homes (probably more than you even realize). But they also present a particular challenge when they outlive their usefulness. “Electronic waste or e-waste needs to be handled by a certified vendor to ensure both safe recycling and destruction of electronics, as well as the security of the information on these machines,” says Leahy. “Most municipalities will have designated e-waste drop-off locations. Businesses with more of a bulk drop-off can rely on a network of specialized vendors and facilities with the proper certifications to handle and ensure recycling of the material.”
Wait—what? Doesn’t everyone throw old food in the trash? Yes…but experts advise against it, or at least throwing so much of it in there. Food scraps make up a significant portion of many households’ trash output and end up posing problems for the environment. “Food scraps should not be sent to the landfill, because in that environment, they generate methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas,” says Ryan Cooper, Waste Diversion Manager and Organics Recycling Lead at Rubicon. “These materials should be diverted from the landfill and converted into valuable resources such as animal feed, renewable natural gas, fuel, electricity, and compost.”
Motor oil shouldn’t be placed into the regular trash, as doing so could cause it to leak into the groundwater,” says Leahy. You also never want to dump it down a drain or sewer because it can block or damage pipes. So, what should you do with it? “Many automotive parts or repair shops that sell motor oil will often take it back for recycling. You will need to inquire at each store before visiting one of these shops,” she says. You can also check with your county. Many solid-waste offices offer motor-oil recycling programs, but this varies, so call for details in your area.
Concrete is one of the toughest materials to dispose of…but one of the easiest to recycle. And that’s a good thing, because there’s an awful lot of it out there. “Concrete is quite possibly the single easiest material to find a recycling home for, and the life span of recycled concrete can fall into the hundreds of years,” says Batterson. “The EPA estimates that the amount of C&D debris generated is more than double the amount of standard solid waste. Finding alternative outlets for materials for reuse, repurposing, or recycling is even more critical in this space to have the greatest impact on reducing the overall amount of landfill space in use.”
The chemicals in fluorescent light bulbs can be harmful. This is why you should follow a careful process to clean up any bulbs that smash or break. “Fluorescent light bulbs can contain harmful dust and vapor, such as mercury, [so it’s a big problem] if these bulbs are simply thrown in the trash and break,” says Batterson. “Many communities and manufacturers offer mail-back programs where you receive a cardboard box to load the bulbs into and mail to a vendor for proper recycling.”
Automotive parts may contain hazardous pieces or harmful chemicals—but there’s also the fact that you could be throwing money away. “Automotive parts should always be looked at for recycling use first before thinking of throwing them away in the trash,” says Leahy. “Many automotive parts are made of valuable metal that some area scrap-metal dealers would be able to accept for recycling.”
“Large appliances have a host of parts and components that can have a second life in other devices and appliances, as opposed to just sitting in a landfill to rot away and be harmful to the environment,” says Batterson. “Additionally, appliances can be recycled through metal shredding once any fluids—such as refrigerants and oils—are properly drained and any e-waste components are removed.” Find out when your appliances are most likely to break down.
By now, we all know that plastic bags are bad for the environment, so it’s a good idea to get rid of them, right? Only if you’re disposing of them correctly. “Plastic bags can get stuck in waterways, hang on trees, and litter our streets,” says Leahy. “Clean, dry plastic bags and films, such as those found at the grocery store or what your newspaper comes in, can be taken to local grocery stores and other retail locations for recycling.”
Medical waste can include insulin syringes, specimens and the containers that store them, and sheets or other fabrics that may be contaminated. “This special type of hazardous waste needs to be handled safely, as it can contain liquids or sharp items that could pose a threat to human health or the environment,” says Leahy. “The best move here is to contact your local county’s solid waste office to learn the best way to dispose of these types of materials in your area.”