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Going Green-Tossing the Good, Bad & Ugly


When the garbage man comes, prepping is easy. You stick all your trash in the brown bin and place it on the curb. When the recycling man comes, things are just as simple. You get your paper, plastic, and glass properly cleaned and sorted.

Heck, you’ve even got your old computer monitor in the backseat, ready for a trip to the e-cycling center. You’re doing your part for the environment and properly disposing of everything that can be recycled or reused. Or are you?

So many common household items are actually toxic to our environment and need to be recycled or disposed of properly, yet many people aren’t aware of that fact.

Leftover paint thinner? Old bug killer? These aren’t products that belong in the normal trash heap.

According to the Kern County Recycling Guide, a majority of the products we purchase, whether they be household items or cleaning products should be taken to a proper special waste facility, and it just so happens we have two in Kern County.

Here are some of the items they accept.

Automotive Products You might know that used motor oil needs to be properly disposed of, but what about other automotive liquids like antifreeze or transmission fluid? Dumping any of these fluids into your trashcan will lead to further pollution of the earth—they’re not biodegradable and can poison wildlife. In addition, used fuel filters should be properly disposed of to reduce the amount of pollution in water. Here’s a tip for proper filter disposal: Turn the filter upside down to drain the gasoline. Once empty, allow the filter to dry out for two days before disposing it in your regular trash. Take the gas in an airtight container rated to hold fuel to a household hazardous waste facility for disposal. If the filter cannot be drained and contains gas, place it in an airtight container before taking it to a waste facility.

Batteries All types of batteries, whether they’re lead acid, alkaline, rechargeable, or button (like the ones found in watches and hearing aids) contain toxic materials that are hazardous to human and environmental health, so you better believe they don’t belong in the regular garbage. Because we use batteries for so many products, and you don’t want to be making constant trips out to the special waste recycling facility, create a container for used batteries and make one trip every so often.

Cleaning Products Anything with ammonia or chlorine bleach should be disposed of properly. Not to mention oven cleaner, drain cleaning products, and even furniture polishes. Think about what these products do to the surface they’re intended to clean. Then think about what they could do to our natural environment. If something is toxic enough to strip rust off metal, just imagine what it can do to our ecosystem.

Fluorescent Bulbs Not only is it unsafe for our garbage men when we put broken or non-working light bulbs in the trash (for the injury factor), but fluorescent bulbs and tubes contain elemental mercury mixed with powder. Crushing tubes creates mercury vapor which is difficult to contain and horrible for animals to inhale.

Home Generated Sharps If you’ve ever had to give yourself or a family member injections for an extended period of time, both the used and leftover needles and syringes need to be disposed of properly. This biomedical waste can cause injury to other human beings not only through needle pricks, but through contamination. Sharps containers can be obtained from any medical supply store and once full, you can take them to the same facility you take your other hazardous waste products.

Mercury Thermometers It’s a no-brainer, but mercury should not be released into our environment, so your thermometers or thermostats containing mercury need to be properly disposed of so as not to cause illness to humans, wildlife, and plants.

Paint and Paint Products (Includes Spray Paint) While lead-based paints aren’t used today (most are latex-based and are considered safe for regular disposal), some older paints may still have lead in them, and lead can cause serious health issues. Oil paints and spray paints have vapors and are flammable. But just as toxic are the thinners and other solvents we used to strip old paint. These products are very harmful to the environment, not to mention being highly flammable, so be sure to take them to one of the special waste facilities here in the county.

Pesticides and Weed Killers You’ve seen the warning labels on that can of roach spray—pesticides can cause serious health issues when not used properly. Heck, even when you think you’re using them properly you can be harmed. They cause just as much destruction if they’re not disposed of properly. Any bug killer or weed killer can drastically affect the environment if thrown away in the garbage. Not only are the fumes hazardous to anyone who breathes them, but the chemicals themselves will destroy plants and wildlife, so put these products on the list for the special waste facility, as well.

Expired Medication Those old pills aren’t doing you any good up in your medicine cabinet. But they’re not suitable to stick in the garbage can, either. It’s recommended that you put each prescription bottle in a clear, zip-lock bag and take it to one of our special waste facilities. You don’t want anyone, especially children, getting their hands on those pills, so be sure to dispose of them properly.

Pool Chemicals Anything that can kill the bacteria floating in your pool isn’t safe to put in the ol’ trashcan. Think about this: how bad do your eyes hurt after you open them under water in a heavily-chlorinated pool? And that’s just a little chlorine. These types of chemicals should be taken to a waste facility to be disposed of properly. Were these products to get into freshwater streams or seep into a lake, it would be disastrous for wildlife.

There are a lot of additional products that are harmful to the environment, including nail polish, hair color, and even glue! So be conscious before you start tossing things in the trash and realize that properly disposing of potentially hazardous household items is important if we want to keep our planet green.

Editor’s Note: Our Kern County Special Waste Facilities do have a transport limit. Do not transport more than 15 gallons or 125 pounds of waste per trip.

Sources: Kern County Recycling Guide,,

Article appeared in our 26-5 Issue - December 2009