Recycle Your Small Universal Waste Items By Mail


Mail-in recycling kits.
Image credit:Waste Management

In today's consumer-friendly world, electronic products shape the way we live our lives. From compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and batteries to computers and cell phones, these products are everywhere. What's more, these products are the fastest growing commodities in the waste stream and are only going to grow even more in years to come. It's vital now, more than ever, to properly recycle these household items and recover whatever resources we can. If you walk through your house, you may not realize just how many products surround you that may require special handling when they reach the end of their operating life. When you turn on your TV, you need batteries for your remote. When you flip a switch, you need bulbs to provide light. And to check your e-mail, you must log on through your computer. In each of these everyday activities, you are using household items that can be recycled instead of being disposed — the most environmentally friendly thing to do.

Collectively, these products are called "universal waste," a special classification given by the EPA to those items that aren't necessarily considered hazardous, but should be properly recycled or treated and disposed.

For example, each CFL bulb and fluorescent tube contains a small amount of mercury. With an estimated 4 billion household sockets in the United States being filled with these energy-efficient lighting options, we all need to recycle our bulbs to keep more than 17 tons of mercury out of the environment. That said, do you know how to properly recycle your universal waste?

The following products found in your home are considered "universal waste" — trash that is harmful, but not necessarily considered "hazardous" by the EPA:


  • Batteries (AA, AAA, C cells, D cells, mercury, and hearing aid or "button" batteries)

  • Small electronic devices (PDAs, cell phones, calculators, and component parts, etc.)

  • Large electronic devices (cathode ray tubes (CRTs), computers, or peripherals)

  • Fluorescent bulbs and tubes, including compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)

  • Mercury-containing switches and unbroken thermometers


We have found that, for recycling to be successful, it has to be convenient and give consumers a simple and responsible way of recovering the resource in their personal universal waste. Therefore, many companies — and now even cities — are providing simple ways for businesses and households to recycle these wastes.

For example, the City of Battle Creek launched a new program in 2009 in which it provides Battle Creek residents with a free, convenient solution for responsibly recycling compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and batteries right from their home. As part of this program, the City purchased 5,000 battery recycling kits and 2,000 CFL recycling kits through Think Green From Home, giving consumers convenient mail-in solutions to safely store and recycle household recyclables.

We created Think Green From Home to give consumers a really simple way of recycling of their personal universal waste. Through the site, you can purchase a recycle pack and send it back to be recycled through the mail. Better still, we recently announced that we've teamed up with Earthmate, a maker of CFLs, so that you can purchase new light bulbs in ready-to-recycle packaging. Once you use your CFL, you can send it back in the exact same box.

As the number of consumer electronics continues to grow — as it undoubtedly will — we're going to need to develop and implement more of these convenient recycling programs to divert more of this waste to be repurposed into other products. For now, when you use energy-efficient devices like batteries or CFLs to power your home, keep in mind that the best thing you can do is use resources already available to safely and easily recycle your universal waste.

Several of many e-waste posts on TreeHugger.
An e-Waste Nightmare in Ghana (Video)
60 Minutes Reporter Attacked in Chinese E-Waste Pit
Circuits in Plastic Can Help Eliminate e-Waste (Video)

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