AppliancesBatteriesBuilding Materials
PlasticRecycle FAQGlass
PaperMetalsHousehold Hazardous Waste

1-800-RECYCLE

Appliances

Q. I removed the chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs) from my refrigerator myself so why isn't it cheaper to recycle it?

A. Some scrap metal recyclers do not take CFC-bearing appliances unless they are certified as having had the CFCs properly recovered. Other recyclers will charge the same fee to a person bringing in an appliance without that certification, regardless of whether it still has CFCs. This policy is meant to discourage people from venting the ozone-depleting CFCs into the atmosphere in an attempt to save money.

Batteries

Q. Why are alkaline batteries not always recyclable?

A. Though it is possible to reclaim some metal from alkaline batteries, these batteries are not often recycled. Where they have been collected, it has generally been for disposal as a hazardous material. Mercury has been the ingredient of most concern in alkaline batteries. As currently manufactured, however, these batteries contain only a fraction of the mercury they once did. Many counties have therefore determined that the reduced risk in sending alkaline batteries to the landfill does not warrant the expense of collecting them for special disposal or recycling. You might consider switching to rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, which are widely recycled--after being reused many times.

Q. Rechargeable batteries are not always NICAD or are they?

A. No, they are not. Many cell phone and camcorder batteries, for instance, are small lead-acid batteries (the same materials used in a car's rechargeable battery). If you follow proper maintenance, such as recharging batteries only after their charge has been exhausted, they will last longer. For a wealth of information on rechargeable household batteries, visit the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation Web site.

Building Materials

Q. Why can't I recycle painted wood?

A. Painted wood is generally not recyclable. The two primary uses for old wood are as a soil amendment (after the wood is chipped or ground up) or as fuel for industrial furnaces, etc. If painted wood is burned, toxic fumes are likely to be emitted to atmosphere. If chips of paint are added to the soil, they can pollute ground or surface waters, or affect the health of plant life grown in the soil. Neither situation has any environmental advantage over putting the painted wood in a modern permitted landfill.

Q. I thought everyone wanted plate glass framed or not for crushing into roads.

A. There are businesses looking for plate glass to be crushed for use in road building and other paving projects. However, these businesses have no use for the frames and cannot effectively crush glass that is still in the frames. If you have wood-framed, unbroken windows, try businesses that deal in second-hand building supplies.

Q. Where can I dispose of asbestos?

A. First, do not try to remove siding, insulation, shingles, or ceiling tiles if you suspect they contain asbestos. For advice on how to carry out such a project, or on how to dispose of asbestos that is not attached to a building, contact your local air pollution control agency. For a list go to http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/air/local.html

Glass

Q. Why can't I recycle broken glasses with my glass bottles and jars?

A. The combination of ingredients used to make glassware is different from what goes into container glass for bottles and jars. If these two types of glass are recycled together, the resulting glass will not be suitable for container glass. In fact, glassware, ceramics, window panes, or mirrors can pose a threat to equipment in a glass recycling plant.

Household Hazardous Waste

Q. Why should I recycle my compact fluorescent lights and fluorescent tubes?

A. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and tubes come in various shapes and sizes. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury (about as much as the ink on the tip of a ball point pen). If the lights are broken, mercury vapor can enter the environment and settle into surface waters, where it can turn into highly toxic methylmercury. Fish and other wildlife can then ingest the mercury and pass it up the food chain to humans. Once mercury is in the food chain, it is almost impossible to remove. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 600 million fluorescent lights are disposed of annually, with over 80 percent ending up in landfills. Because mercury persists in the environment, you must not throw away CFLs with your regular garbage. Contact Information for recycle/disposal options in your area can be found at: http://1800recycle.wa.gov

Save your bulbs safely until your next trip to the recycler. Make your own bulb carrier (How to Build a Bulb Carrier) from a reused six-pack beverage carrier. Download a label for your carrier or order one.

Q. What should I do if a compact fluorescent light or fluorescent tube gets broken?

A. If a light breaks, Avoid breathing vapors or touching broken materials. Do not vacuum or sweep because doing so would contaminate your vacuum cleaner and the mercury could become airborne.
  1. Open windows to vent vapors for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Use stiff paper or cardboard to pick up large pieces.
  3. Use duct tape to pick up small pieces and powder.
  4. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or wet wipe.
  5. Place all materials in a sealed container.
  6. Wash your hands.
  7. Contact Information for disposal options in your area can be found at: http://1800recycle.wa.gov
For additional information on mercury-containing light bulbs and lamps go to: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/mercury/mercury_light_bulbs.html

For additional EPA guidance go to: http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html

Q. Why isn't antifreeze good for the sewer system?

A. Though small amounts of antifreeze can be successfully neutralized by sewage treatment plants, too much antifreeze can overload those systems. You should never attempt this disposal method without first obtaining the permission of the sewage treatment plant involved.  In any case, recycling the material is a more environmentally beneficial practice, and antifreeze recycling is available on a regular basis in most Washington counties.

Q. Why can't I recycle contaminated oil at the usual oil recycling sites?

A. Used oil that contains water, solvents, antifreeze, or any other liquid is unsuitable for normal recycling processes. Instead, it must be handled as a fully-regulated hazardous waste. If faced with the expense of hazardous waste management, the operators of oil recycling sites may choose to stop accepting oil altogether. You can reduce the chances of contamination by draining your crankcase oil into a container that you can cover and seal, and by recycling the oil soon after.

Q. Can't we just dump latex paint; it is water soluble.

A. Latex paints contain various amounts of toxic materials. If improperly discarded toxic materials are water soluble, that only means they could pollute ground water more quickly. You might be able to give your unwanted paint to neighbors, school or community theater troupes, or local volunteers who are trying to paint over graffiti. Many counties have collection opportunities for latex paint reuse or disposal. Where none of these options are available, residents are usually advised to dry out latex paint until it is solid; as it is then no longer water soluble, residents can dispose of it with their garbage. Of course, the best way to avoid having to dispose of paint is to use it, and to buy no more than you can use.

Metal

Q. Why can't I get five cents for my empty pop can like they do in Oregon?

A. In Oregon, people pay a five-cent deposit on each can of pop they buy, and if they return the empty can to the store they get their nickel back and break even. In Washington, we don't have to pay a deposit when we buy pop at the store, so we break even right away. And then we can sell our empty pop cans to a recycler and make a clear profit.

Q. My woodstove is all metal, I took out the brick.

A. Did you take out all other insulation materials? (Did you check on asbestos advice--see above--first?) If so, you might be able to find a scrap metal dealer that will take it.

Paper

Q. Why won't recyclers take cereal boxes along with cardboard?

A. If a recycler takes cereal boxes at all, they will probably take it along with mixed waste paper. The "cardboard" from which cereal boxes are made is really known as chipboard or paperboard. It is not the same grade of paper as the corrugated cardboard that is used to make shipping and moving boxes. Of these two types of cardboard, corrugated cardboard has a much higher value as a recycled raw material. Chipboard has little or no value as a recycled raw material, and if a recycling company tries to sell a bale of corrugated cardboard that has chipboard mixed into it, the buyer might refuse not only the bale in question, but anything else that recycling company tries to bring in later. If the demand for products made from recycled chipboard increases, perhaps paper mills will be more willing to take it as a raw material (and pay a better price). The more attention we consumers give to purchasing recycled products, the better the chances that the economics of recycling will improve.

Plastic

Q. Why won't recyclers take No. 1 or 2 unless it's a bottle?

A. Even though plastic bottles and tubs might have the same number inside their recycling symbols, they are not really made of identical material. Bottles are produced through one kind of molding process and tubs through another, and these two processes require different plastic mixtures that melt at different temperatures. If these plastic containers are recycled together, the result is a mixture of material that has little value in a second round of manufacturing. If separated, they each have greater value. Unfortunately, even when plastic tubs are collected separately, they have relatively little value as a material to manufacturers. Try to buy things in containers that you can recycle in your area. (To find if you can recycle a container in your area, search 1800recycle's on-line database.) If recycling is not possible, perhaps there is a way to reuse such containers around your home.

Q. Why do plastics have a number on them if they can't be recycled.

A. The numbering system was designed so that plastics could be sorted according to a few broad categories. Once the system was adopted, recycling companies were able to identify plastic containers by type. Recycling companies could thus separate and collect the plastic types that had sufficient market value to cover the costs of collection and transportation. Since Washington is distant from most plastic manufacturing markets, there are many types of plastic that simply cannot be recycled economically in this state.

Q. Why can't I recycle the lids?

A. The lids to plastic bottles are made of different grades of plastic than the bottle itself. These grades of plastic are not recyclable in Washington, and mixing lids in with plastic bottles will diminish the value of bottle-grade plastic collected in that fashion.

Q. Do I have to take the labels off plastic bottles?

A. Generally speaking, you do not need to remove the labels from plastic (or glass) bottles. Individual recycling companies sometimes impose stricter limits on what they will accept. Most recycling companies that take plastic bottles in Washington accept them with the labels still on the bottle.

Q. What about the little ring that stays on the bottle after you open it?

A. Most recycling companies do not care about the plastic ring that's left on the neck of a bottle after you've removed the top. However, individual recycling companies sometimes impose stricter limits on what they will accept.