Is That Waste In Your Trash Can Illegal?

By Elidia C. Dostal

A guest (who shall remain nameless) was staying at my house when I opened up my kitchen garbage can to find four Triple A batteries at the top of the heap. Hazardous waste! In my garbage can! When I told others about my anonymous guest’s clearly (to me) bad behavior, a common response was: “You can’t throw batteries in the garbage can? What do you do with them?” As an environmental attorney, I feel it’s my duty to make this public service announcement.

Batteries are just one example of common household items that contain hazardous and toxic chemicals that require special disposal. Other examples include fluorescent light bulbs, paint, old cell phones, and computer monitors. For a more complete list of examples, check out San Diego County’s website. Throwing these items in the trash can is not only bad for the environment, but illegal. So if they don’t go in the garbage can, what do you do with them?

1. Recycle at Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facilities

Household hazardous waste facilities are available to San Diego residents for free drop-off, with an appointment and proof of residence. Other cities offer similar facilities with or without an appointment, so check your city’s requirements. Here is contact information for San Diego County household hazardous waste programs by city. Statewide listings by city can be found here.

2. Recycle Rechargeable Batteries at Your Favorite Store

Rechargeable batteries include those used in cell phones, cordless phones, cameras, electronic devices, razors, and cordless power tools. Many retailers (including Lowe’s and Best Buy) that sell rechargeable batteries have recycling drop boxes at the entrance to their stores. You can find California recycling locations near you by entering your zip code at Call2Recycle’s website.

3. Recycle at E-recycling Events

Cities and various organizations occasionally have special e-recycling events collecting old electronics such as televisions and computer monitors; look for public announcements.

I have used all three options and have listed them in order of convenience based on my experience (my city does not require an appointment and the collection facility is easy for me to get to, so it’s easiest by far for me). Sometimes the special city-wide recycling events involve huge lines of cars, so it’s my least favorite, but still a better option than your garbage can. It may seem like a pain to drive somewhere to drop off something that you can drop in your trash can without anyone else ever knowing. But you’ll know and aren’t cleaner earth, air, and water worth it? I always feel good about taking the trouble to ensure a cleaner, safer environment.

If you have any questions about household hazardous waste or “universal waste” as the same type of waste is known for businesses, please contact me at or 619-254-8939.

Elidia Dostal is an environmental attorney whose practice includes helping large quantity hazardous waste generators comply with the complex regulations governing hazardous materials management. She is a Yale Law School graduate with offices in San Diego. For more information, visit or connect with Elidia on LinkedIn.