7 things you should never throw away (or you could be in legal trouble)

By now, we all know how to separate trash from recyclables.

But what about the other things we no longer need? The answer is no if you’re holding an old bottle of medication. Tap or click here to check if any of your meds have been recalled.

Motor oil, engine coolant and other vehicle chemicals must also be disposed of properly. Speaking of cars, you don’t need a brand new one to get today’s tech inside. Tap or click for affordable upgrades you can make to your older car.

Many everyday items have their methods of safe disposal. Note: I include general guidelines here, but you always check with your local waste authority to be safe.

1. Household batteries 

Batteries are broken down into two broad categories: Single-use and rechargeable. How you dispose of them is quite different.

  • You can usually throw away standard alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, 9-volt and the like) that power your remote control, flashlight, and other everyday household items in the trash.
  • Button cell or coin batteries — the kind you’ll find in calculators, watches, hearing aids and car key fobs — may contain silver and mercury and should not be thrown away in the trash. Bring them to a battery recycler or participating retailers that provide battery takeback services
  • Lithium-ion and nickel-cadmium batteries are most commonly found in cellphones, laptops, tablets, digital cameras, power tools, and toys. These batteries should never be tossed in the trash or placed in the recycle bin. They must be taken to separate recycling or household hazardous waste collection centers.
  • Small, sealed lead acid batteries are found in emergency devices, security systems, mobility scooters, and other special-use items. These also need to be taken to special disposal centers.

To find more recycling and disposal information, go to this resource page at Earth911. Select a type of battery from the left drop-down menu and enter your ZIP code. Note that stores like Staples, Home Depot, and Best Buy have battery drop-off programs.

One of my show’s most common battery questions is,  “What’s the best way to make my phone’s battery last longer?” Tap or click here for a few secrets to get more life out of yours when you’re not near a charger.

A guest holds the new iPhone 14 at an Apple event at their headquarters in Cupertino, California, Sept. 7, 2022.
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

2. Smartphones and tablets

There’s no way to remove the battery from many smartphones or tablets. Don’t simply chuck these devices in the trash, as the batteries can cause fires.

So, what should you do with it? Try trading in the old device when purchasing a new one. Most manufacturers will recycle it for free even if you don’t get credit for it. Check out Apple’s program, for example.

The resource page at Earth911 has locations that will accept your old phone or tablet.

Before turning in or recycling your old device, it’s imperative to do a factory reset. Otherwise, you’re potentially handing over a lot of personal information. Tap or click here for instructions on wiping your phone, computer, and smart speaker before getting rid of them.

Here’s an idea. Turn your old phone or tablet into something else entirely. Tap or click here for a 60-second audio tip on turning your phone, computer, tablet, or laptop into a motion-activated camera.


3. Televisions

Your television contains glass, lead, and other dangerous chemicals and should not end up in a landfill. And unless it’s bulk trash pickup time, don’t just put your old TV on the curb.

Try calling your local Best Buy, Walmart, and other electronics stores to see if they’ll accept old TVs for recycling. If you’re having a new one delivered and installed, they should take the old one, though there may be a fee.

If you strike out, contact your local recycling facility or sanitation department for more information. They may schedule a pickup or direct you where to go.

Consider donating the TV to a friend or thrift store. Perhaps a local retirement home or school could use it. Try posting it on a buy nothing group in your area if none of your friends and family bite.

Before getting rid of your TV, sign out of every connected service and wipe your Wi-Fi password. Yes, your TV is watching. Here’s how to stop some of the tracking.

A television screen showing news reports on the shelling of the airport in Ivano-Frankivsk.

A television screen showing news reports on the shelling of the airport in Ivano-Frankivsk.
(Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

4. Car batteries

Car batteries contain lead and acid and pose a severe environmental risk to humans and animals. That means don’t drop your old one in a dumpster.

If you replace your battery at an auto shop, they should take the old one and dispose of it for you. This is the law in some jurisdictions and applies to retailers who sell car batteries, even if they don’t sell you one or install one for you.

Check with retailers such as AutoZone, Pep Boys, Advance Auto Parts, Walmart, and even local repair shops. They might take your old car battery off your hands.

Tech upgrade: Dashcams are on my must-have vehicle tech checklist. Tap or click here for three great options at different price points.


5. Lighters

Just like batteries, there are disposable and reusable lighters.

You can safely throw those cheap plastic lighters you can pick up just about anywhere in the trash if they’re empty, though this depends on state laws. 

Don’t pour it down the sink if there’s still lighter fluid. Go outside and activate the lighter until the fluid is used. If it gets too hot, take a break and try later. In some jurisdictions, you need to take your lighter to a household hazardous waste site.

Zippos and butane utility lighters can be used repeatedly, but when it’s time to get rid of them, be careful. Make sure they’re empty before disposing of them and if you have leftover lighter fluid or butane, take that to your nearest household hazardous waste site. Again, never pour this stuff down any drain.

Search for your lighter, fluid and ZIP code at Earth911 for instructions and locations for disposal.

I ditched lighter fluid altogether and bought a rechargeable arc lighter. When it dies, plug it in. Tap or click here for my favorites, including one under $10.

6. Thermometers

Old-school glass thermometers can contain mercury, which is highly toxic to the environment and living things. Don’t throw it in the trash, and be careful not to break it.

Some universities will take old thermometers and may even give you a newer digital model, or you can check your local HHW facility.

A thermometer shows a reading of 3.5-4 degrees Celsius taken from the ice-cold water at Highgate Men's Bathing Pond, in north London on December 12, 2017, at sunrise on a freezing winter morning. 

A thermometer shows a reading of 3.5-4 degrees Celsius taken from the ice-cold water at Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond, in north London on December 12, 2017, at sunrise on a freezing winter morning. 
(Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

7. Car tires

Car tires contain steel belts that can puncture landfills and contaminate the environment. When you change your tires at a shop, they should take your old ones. There may be a small fee.

If you have old tires, most car dealerships and automotive retailers will take them for recycling, though you might have to pay for this service. You can also call your trash service to schedule a pickup.

Keep your tech-know going 

My popular podcast is called “Kim Komando Today.” It’s a solid 30 minutes of tech news, tips, and callers with tech questions like you from all over the country. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. For your convenience, hit the link below for a recent episode.

PODCAST PICK: Elon Musk’s Twitter plan, TikTok car thieves, solar power vs. storms

Chinese super apps inspire Elon Musk’s Twitter plans, a solar-powered town kept power during Hurricane Ian, new phishing attacks, TikTok teaches car thieves, the world’s oldest webcam and how to use our phone to hang pictures the easy way. Plus, how to make money renting your car and stop websites from tracking you with URLs.

Check out my podcast “Kim Komando Today” on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.


Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television, or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

Copyright 2023, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved. By clicking the shopping links, you’re supporting my research. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. I only recommend products I believe in.

Learn about all the latest technology on The Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters, and more, visit her website at Komando.com.