Interior Home Safety

14 Things It’s Illegal to Throw in the Trash

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate more than 250 million tons of trash every year. We constantly toss food waste, paper products, and used household items in the garbage without a second thought. But did you know that some items are dangerous—or even illegal—to throw away? Here are 11 things that should never wind up in a landfill.

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Many batteries contain toxic chemicals like mercury, nickel, and cadmium. If such batteries end up in a landfill, those chemicals can leach into the soil or water system. Always take rechargeable batteries to your nearest local recycling drop-off, which you can find at Call2Recycle. Although alkaline batteries are less harmful, homeowners should still deliver them to a Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facility for safe disposal.

Related: How To: Get Rid of ANYTHING


Because leftover paint is flammable and poisonous, it must be disposed of safely. One option is to leave the can open until the remaining paint dries, then bring it to a recycling center that handles scrap metal. Alternatively, you can bring paint to your local HHW facility, which you can find by visiting

Motor Oil

After you finish up a DIY oil change, never toss the used motor oil in the trash. The flammable and toxic substance may contaminate water and soil. Instead, bring the used oil to your local automotive repair shop, which might clean and reuse it. Homeowners can also take motor oil or transmission fluid to an HHW facility.

Related: 10 Ways You’re Accidentally Poisoning Your Home


Most Americans own a multitude of electronic devices, from flat-screen TVs to smartphones. But all of these tech accessories contain heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, which can be toxic to the environment if thrown away. To help keep electronics out of the waste stream, the EPA offers a list of companies that provide recycling options for electronics.

Related: Let It Go: 14 Things to Trash Without Thinking Twice

Mercury Thermometers

If you still have an old-school glass thermometer that contains mercury and you’ve finally decided to get rid of it, don’t toss it in the trash. If the thermometer breaks open, the mercury (which is a neurotoxin) becomes a health and environmental hazard. Some universities and organizations offer exchange programs that allow you to trade in your mercury thermometer for a new digital model. Or you can visit to determine where to bring it for safe disposal.

Prescription Drugs

Don’t flush unused medications down the toilet, since they can leach into the water supply and disrupt aquatic life. Instead, find a safe place to bring your old and unused prescriptions at

Related: 10 Things Never to Flush Down the Toilet

Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Homeowners can throw burnt-out incandescent light bulbs right in the trash, but fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) contain mercury, a hazardous element that can’t be disposed of in the regular trash without negatively impacting the environment. Take old fluorescent light bulbs to your local Household Hazardous Waste facility for recycling.

Lawn Chemicals

Chemical-based lawn and garden fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides should never be poured down the drain or thrown away in the garbage, as their ingredients can be harmful both to living things and the broader ecosystem. You can take lawn chemicals to your local Household Hazardous Waste facility for disposal, or better yet, give them away to a friend or neighbor.

Related: 8 Reasons Not to Use Pesticides in Your Yard and Garden

Smoke Detectors

Ionization Chamber Smoke Detectors (ICSDs) have a small amount of radioactive material inside that helps them detect smoke, so they have to be recycled with the manufacturer or taken to your local HHW facility. Photoelectric smoke detectors don’t contain radioactive material and can be dropped off at any facility that recycles electronics. If you have a combination smoke detector, it needs to be treated like an ICSD.

Related: 15 Household Items That Could Save Your Life


It may seem obvious, but fireworks should never be thrown away in the garbage without proper preparation. Soak any dud or unexploded fireworks in water for at least 24 hours to render the gunpowder inert, then double-wrap them in plastic wrap or plastic bags so they won’t dry out. Only then can they be disposed of in the regular trash. Some municipalities will take fireworks for disposal as well.


It’s actually illegal to throw tires in the trash, because the steel belts inside them can puncture the liners in landfills and cause ground contamination. Most car dealers and tire retailers will recycle your old tires—typically for a price. Another option: You can often pay your trash service to pick them up for you.

Related: 13 Hacks Every Car Owner Should Know


Mothballs might be an efficient way to protect your clothes and other fabric items, but the small spheres are actually a pesticide, containing toxic ingredients like naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene. These harsh chemicals shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet or tossed in with your regular trash. Set them aside with your other hazardous waste to dispose at your local HHW facility.


It’s no secret that asbestos is a serious health risk. You should always let the professionals deal with removing the carcinogenic mineral, but if you do encounter it during a DIY project it’s vital that you properly dispose of it. Every state has specific instructions for getting rid of asbestos, but generally you should double wrap the material in plastic bags and label it.


Hold your horses before you ditch that can of gasoline you found in your shed. Whether it’s usable or unusable, gas can damage, contaminate, or even start a fire if not properly disposed. Pour the gas you want to get rid of in a government-certified container and then drop it off at the HHW facility. Another option is contacting your local fire department or auto repair shop who will know how to handle it.

Related: How To: Dispose of Gasoline

Clean Up Your Act

So, nix these items from your trash can—and challenge yourself to reduce your household trash altogether. Recycling, composting, and consuming less of what you don’t need will not only make trash day easier, but it’s good for the planet, too.