Waste is an unwanted material or human byproduct. It can be solid or liquid and hazardous or non-hazardous.
According to Environment America, the average person throws away 4.9 lbs of trash per day. To better protect the environment, it’s essential to understand the types of waste disposal and which items belong where.
Municipal Solid Waste (Regular Household Garbage)
Your regular trash pick-up service accepts solid waste, also known as municipal solid waste. Discard all non-recyclable and non-hazardous items in your regular trash. Standard household garbage includes non-recyclable food packaging, old clothing or shoes, broken toys, food scraps, cooking oil, paper towels, etc.
Your regular trash service also provides ‘bulk waste’ pick up for an extra fee. Examples include:
You must contact your trash pick-up provider before putting large items out with your garbage. They’ll give you a pick-up date and fee information. In some instances, you can recycle or donate your bulk items instead of throwing them away.
Hazardous waste is garbage or byproduct harmful to humans or the environment. Many items in our everyday lives are hazardous. These include most batteries, e-waste (laptops, phones, tablets, etc.), gasoline, oil-based paint, and certain types of light bulbs.
You can’t throw hazardous waste in the regular garbage. Instead, you must transport the items to a hazardous waste facility or participate in local collection events. You can find e-waste, battery, and light bulb disposal bins at The Home Depot, Lowes, Batteries Plus, and some IKEA locations. Most localities also provide hazardous waste collection events at least a few times per year. Check your local government website or Facebook page for details.
Another option is to take your items to a hazardous waste facility or transfer station. Find hazardous waste facilities near you by checking your state’s EPA page or using Earth911’s search engine.
How to recycle depends on where you live. Most curbside recycling programs accept all paper products, plastic jugs and bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans, and plastic containers from shampoo, laundry detergent, yogurt, etc.
Rules will vary depending on the service provider, but in most cases, recyclable items must be rinsed and placed loosely in the recycling bin (not placed in garbage bags.) Some services require residents to sort by type of item, while others don’t.
Those living in more rural areas will need to bring their recyclables to collections bins or recycling facilities. You can often find paper recycling collection bins in the parking lots of large retailers, city buildings, and local health departments.
There are also specialized recycling centers, including those for leftover paint, concrete, carpet, and asphalt shingles.
Wastewater is water that people have used, whether in a home or business. It includes everything from dirty dishwater to toilet water. Wastewater is disposed of via a sewage or septic system.
Construction and Demolition Waste
Construction and demolition waste is the byproduct of construction or home improvement projects. Examples include bricks, shingles, flooring, drywall, wood, windows, concrete, and rocks.
In many cases, C&D waste is recyclable. There is a vast array of construction and demolition recycling facilities nationwide. Some are specialized, so search for recycling solutions before throwing C&D debris in a landfill. (E.g., if you need to dispose of bricks, search for “brick recycling near me”)
Standard construction and demolition debris that is recyclable includes concrete, rocks, and asphalt shingles.
You can’t place your construction and demolition debris with your regular household waste. Instead, you’ll need to contact your trash provider to see if they offer a specialized pick-up. If not, you can search for a C&D landfill or recycling center in your area. Other options include renting a C&D dumpster from your trash provider or paying a junk service to haul the items away on your behalf.
Yard debris includes sticks, leaves, grass clippings, weeds, and other organic matter. Many large cities have free collection sites to which you can haul your yard waste. Other localities run collection events, allowing residents to bag up yard waste and leave it on the curb for pick-up. Check your local city’s website for information on yard waste disposal.
If you live in a rural area and don’t have a yard waste pickup, consider upcycling your debris. Compost non-wood yard waste, use it to fill garden beds, turn it into mulch, or dump it in your woods.