Tackle home junk with proper disposal

No matter how thorough you are during your rounds of spring cleaning, it may seem like there's an inevitable pile of junk that can't find a home. Items like old lightbulbs, batteries and boxes of tangled wires end up shoved into the back of the closet again, hidden until next spring.

If you're finally ready to tackle those difficult items, here's how to do it the right way.

Unused electronic wires and remotes. Everyone has that leftover box of unknown cables, wires and remotes. Some of these cables have been found to have dangerous toxins in them that are released when they're incinerated, so avoid throwing these in the trash. Because they have copper in them, cables are of value to recyclers, but finding a recycling facility does require some research. Consult the Electronics Takeback Campaign or the EPA's eCycling website for official facilities, or simply do a quick Google search for an electronics recycler near you.

Broken glass. If simply thrown into the trash, broken glass (or any glass) is like a concealed weapon -- it can quickly cut through paper and plastic and cause serious injury to yourself or others. The best thing to do is to wrap glass in some kind of disposable cloth and gently hammer the glass so that it breaks into much smaller pieces. Put the cloth in a box or bag and label it "broken glass" before putting it in the trash.

Lightbulbs. Check your package to confirm, but most LED lights can be recycled, since they don't contain any dangerous chemicals. Incandescent and halogen bulbs can't be recycled, but they can be thrown in the trash. Put them in a plastic bag to contain any broken glass.

CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and fluorescent tubes have mercury in them, which makes it illegal to throw them in the trash in some states. Your city may have a local drop-off for these bulbs or you can check out large retailers like Home Depot and Ikea, which offer recycling services for bulbs purchased through their stores. You can also check out Earth911.com for other options.

Old dishes. Glass dishes can be recycled, but ceramic dishes are more complicated. Thrift store are usually the best place to take ceramic dishes -- even if they're chipped or cracked, people may want them for crafts. If you have ceramic dishes that are completely broken, search online for an art class or a craft group that's in need of mosaic supplies.

Batteries. There's some debate, but in general it's a good idea to recycle batteries. Because they contain trace amounts of mercury (and even more mercury if they were made before 1997) and other toxins, though, you can't put them in a regular recycling bin. Check with your trash-removal company for safe recycling options.

It's illegal to throw away rechargeable batteries in some states -- this includes batteries for your cell phone and laptop, which contain toxic heavy metals. Most consumer electronics chains, such as Best Buy, Circuit City and Office Depot, offer recycling services for dry cell and recyclable batteries. You can also check out Earth911.com to find a battery recycling facility near you.

Expired canned food. Let's face it, you're never going to use that last can of lima beans -- it's time to toss those expired cans and spices. Some food banks will accept expired goods within a certain time frame; call your local one and ask what its policy is. Otherwise, dump the food into your garbage disposal or compost bin and rinse out the can for recycling.

Plastic bags. Plastic bags can be recycled, but not in a regular recycling bin. Many supermarkets offer plastic bag recycling boxes. Of course, it's always a good idea to reuse as many plastic bags as possible beforehand.


Vanessa Brunner is a staff writer at Houzz.com.

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