How to Purge, Recycle, and Upcycle Electronics (and other household items)

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How to Purge Without Breaking the Law or Mother Earth

If you’re on a decluttering spree, good for you! But I just want to caution you for one quick second. There are some thing that you need to know how to purge properly.

Before you toss all that old medicine into a trash bag or flush it down the toilet, take a look through this list of things that you may or may not be able to put in the trash.

Some common household items you might not WANT to throw away and some of it might even be ILLEGAL to throw away. Who knew?

All of the things on this list are going to be better recycled or upcycled in some way rather than just tossed in a landfill.

I’m going to cover the major ones, but if you’ve got something that seems questionable and it isn’t on this list, definitely check with your Town Hall or local recycling programs.

And as an added bonus, I asked my friend Catherine from Random Cath for help with how to upcycle some of these items. She writes about Zero Waste and has tons of creative ideas. Or, read this if you don’t know where to start when decluttering your house.

The List of Things You Shouldn’t Just Throw Away

  • Electronics
  • Batteries
  • Almost empty paint cans
  • Chemical-y stuff (like motor oil, mercury thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and even moth balls!)
  • Old medicine/prescriptions
  • Old/broken Appliances
  • Big pieces of furniture

Electronics

how to purge Electronics, garbage can overflowing with laptops, circuit boards, and a PC

According to EcoWatch, we often forget about unused technology that can be recycled as well (i.e., printers, laptops, PCs, monitors). A study found that less than 20% of e-waste is disposed of correctly. Many people are also unaware which tech they can donate and where to send it.

That’s why they created a free community resource that dives deep into e-waste, if you are looking for more in-depth information.

You can also contact your trash collection company and find out if they will collect the items curbside for you. You can expect to pay a fee for this.

Can you recycle or reuse broken electronics?

There are actually a few good options for selling your broken electronics. You can try Sell Broke or Gadget Salvation. This article from Money Pantry is a great resource for selling old electronics (especially mac books).

Also, look out for bins at your local mall or stores that accept old and/or broken phones and electronics. Make sure to wipe clean any personal data first!

Here’s what Cath has to say about how to reuse your old electronics:

Monitor/TV/Laptop screen

Make a magic mirror with an old laptop screen or a TV/monitor. This project is fairly easy to make if you’ve a working TV or monitor but it can also work with an old laptop screen as long as the screen itself is working (doesn’t matter if your whole laptop is). To use an old laptop screen a display controller board, which will make the project a bit more expensive but the end result lighter in weight.

Tutorial for old laptop screen: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/old-laptop-screen-magic-mirror/Tutorial for tv/monitor tutorial: https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Build-a-Raspberry-Pi-Smart-Mirror/

Printer Ink Cartridges

It’s crazy to think that these need to be thrown away as soon as they are empty. If you can, try to buy refillable ink cartridges at least.

The good news is that they can be recycled. Most office supply stores, like Staples or Office Depot, will accept these and recycle them on your behalf.

Phone

YouTube video


If you want to dive into electronics, you might want to save your phone and use it to make a smartwatch.

Batteries:

how to purge Old batteries, picture of duracell batteries

Batteries in your electronics are part of the reason you can’t just throw away Electronics. If there’s a lithium ion battery in the thing you want to throw away, don’t.

You’ll need to recycle them properly.

But what about regular batteries that have died? Can you just throw those away?

It depends…

If it’s a regular alkaline battery that you probably use most commonly, then yes, you can put it in the trash. You can also recycle these batteries, but you may pay a fee for that.

If it’s any other type of battery (like rechargeable batteries or ones that you aren’t really sure what it is…) then you should NOT throw it in the trash. It’s most likely something that needs to be recycled.

This article from Battery Solutions is a great resource for figuring out what to do with those batteries. You can’t just throw them in any old recycling bin!

Chemicals

beakers and containers of chemicals in all colors of the rainbow

There are so many hazardous materials and solvents lurking in our houses and garage.

There’s the obvious things like gas cans, old lighters, antifreeze, pesticides, ammonia, super strong cleaning products. Those are kind of obvious and you would think twice about what to do with them before throwing them away.

But there are other things like fluorescent light bulbs (cfl), old thermometers (mercury!) and even smoke detectors (radioactive material! who knew??).

This stuff is going to take some thought and research on how to throw it away. This article from Bob Vila is a great place to start, but always hit up Google or your local hazardous waste facilities to ask about proper disposal.

Almost Empty Paint Cans

open can of purple paint with a used paint brush on top

You can throw away a can of latex paint that still has some paint in it IF you can let the paint dry out. You can leave the can out in the sun or get paint hardener to harden the paint, but don’t throw away the can with wet paint in it.

If you’ve got something like Stain or paint thinner or oil based paint that you need to dispose of, then you’re going to need to do some research on the specific item. You can’t throw that stuff away in the trash, even if you are able to harden it. See if you can do any DIY home projects with it or create some wall or shelf art pieces.

Old Medicine/Prescriptions

close up shot of old medicines and pill packets

There are actually medicine take back programs that you can research if you don’t want to dispose of your old medications in the trash or toilet.

If you do want to just get rid of them in the trash, you can do that, but you do want to properly dispose of them. You don’t want to just pour the medicine or pills in the trash or toilet.

Earth 911 recommends pouring the medicine (or if it’s pills, add some water so they will dissolve) into a plastic baggie and then pouring in some kitty litter to get the whole thing to harden.

CDs, DVDs, and VHS Tapes

If these items still work, I would donate them to Goodwill or something similar because, like other electronics on our list, you shouldn’t just throw them in the trash.

If they are broken or unusable, discs can be recycled. Again, probably not in your usual household recycle bin because it is not the same kind of plastic that goes in there. Check with your local recycling centers, find e-waste recyclers, or you can even mail them to a recycling company called Green Disk.

If you are looking for creative ways to reuse CDs and DVDs, you can use them for art projects, coasters, or hang them in your garden to keep away animals and birds.

Plastic Bags

If you aren’t already using reusable grocery bags, that means you probably have an entire plastic bag filled with more plastic grocery bags. Unfortunately, you probably can’t recycle those like you do other plastic items you put in your recycling bin.

Most grocery stores have specific boxes set out in order to collect old plastic bags. They will be taken to the appropriate disposal and recycling center.

In the meantime, start taking your own reusable bags with you so you don’t collect anymore!

Old Furniture

old furniture that looks like it was leftover from a fire

Hopefully if you have old furniture to get rid of it is in good enough condition that you can donate it or even resell it.

If it’s not, however, in good enough condition that someone else may want it, you’re going to have to figure out how to get rid of it.

In many communities you can’t just put it on the curb next to your trash can for the garbage men to pick up.

You may be able to schedule a “bulky item” pick up with them, however. And you can expect to pay a fee for that most likely.

There are also services like 1 800 Got Junk that will remove big stuff like old furniture for you, too. For a fee. Of course.

And you have to check out these unique ideas found at DIYnCrafts for your old furniture:

There are beautiful furniture planters on the Internet made from old furniture:

old nightstand repurposed into a bright yellow planter for the front porch
old pianos repurposed into planters sitting outside

I feel I’ve done my public service by informing you of these hazardous items that you can’t just throw away.

And if you do decide to recklessly chuck a lithium ion battery in the trash, well, you can’t try to use the ignorance defense.

I don’t think that’s ever actually a valid defense, just FYI.

Happy Decluttering!

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