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How to Properly Sort Waste for Disposal

written by Head Health Nutter June 24, 2010

Have you a pile of junk left over from spring cleaning, decluttering and renovations? If you’ve got a dump run to make but have no idea how to sort it to save Mother Earth and your time at your city’s waste disposal depot, then this is the post for you.

Having just moved to our first house (and downsizing from our apartment space), my Honey and I were fortunate for the opportunity to thoroughly clean house. We’re also doing major renovations at the same time so after a month and a couple of trips to the dump, we’ve got sorting junk down to a science.

So, after going through your belongings and separating the gently used items for your garage sale, friends and family, or neighbourhood donation outfits (here in Canada we have organizations like the Salvation Army and GoodWill), and recycling what you can, you’ve got a big pile of garbage. Now what?

How to Properly Sort Your Waste for Disposal

We’re in Toronto and I hope at least all the major cities in North America have set up their waste disposal depots similarly so this post is useful to you. Check out your local waste disposal depot to find out their hours, location and disposal program details. Here are Toronto’s Drop-Off Depots.

Even though I checked out the information on the website to see what they accepted, I was still confused. And I couldn’t find anywhere on the site telling us how to sort it. I did my best using the common sense I have (ha ha) but when we got there, after they complimented us on our organization skills, we still had to resort most of it with their assistance.

So I want to save you some time and share what I learned. Here’s how to properly sort your junk for the dump:

  1. Big appliances. Busted washers & dryers, stoves, refrigerators, freezers, etc. You don’t have to pay to drop these items off at Toronto depots.
  2. Electronic waste. Anything with a circuit board has toxic metals that should be kept out of landfills. Old cell phones or palm pilots, computers and monitors, they even took our old coffee grinder – just in case, they said (although, I have a feeling it’ll probably end up in the landfill). Toronto accepts electronic waste for free, too.
  3. Clean wood. Any wood that doesn’t have metal or other materials fixed to it.
  4. Dirty wood. Wood with nails and such go in this pile.
  5. Metal. The only really confusing item here is wires, like for your computer. They’re considered metal even though they have a plastic or rubber-like covering.
  6. Hazardous waste. Toronto’s depots accept hazardous waste for free. This includes toxic chemicals, flammable and corrosive liquids and anything with that might contain residue of these hazardous materials in it. We’re talking about:
  • old cleaning supplies
  • bath & body products
  • house paint and nearly empty cans (rinsed out cans can be recycled)
  • old nail polish and nail polish remover
  • aerosol cans
  • compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), florescent tubes and bulbs
  • anything with mercury in it like thermometers and old thermostats
  • used markers and pens
  • empty lighters and disposal batteries (including those in hand tools like power drills)
  • expired medication, including natural health products (your pharmacy should also accept pharmaceutical waste for proper disposal)
  • pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizer
  • propane and other pressurized gas tanks

Garbage. Everything else, from non-recyclable plastics and carpet to old-fashioned light bulbs, Christmas lights and CDs/DVDs (although some electronic stores recycle these), go in this pile.

Now we didn’t have any to dispose of but you might also want to also separate non-recyclable glass (like busted mirrors). If you have more questions about sorting junk and what’s accepted at Ontario waste depots, check out Do What You Can.

What’s the most unbelievable piece of waste our guy at the Toronto depot site said someone brought in?

A moose head stuffed in a refrigerator, the chopped up carcass was found a in a big freezer a few feet away.

Interesting Facts: Energy Conservation from Recycling (Source: City of Toronto)

  • 75% less energy and 50% less water is used to make paper from recycled paper versus raw wood fibre.
  • Recycling one tonne of old newspapers saves 19 trees.
  • 30% less energy is used to make glass from recycled crushed glass (cullet) versus new resources.
  • A 74% energy reduction is achieved by reusing steel cans and every tonne of recycled steel cans saves 1.36 tonnes of iron ore.
  • When scrap iron is used instead of iron ore to make steel, mining wastes are reduced by 97%, air pollution effluents by 80% and water pollution by 76%.
  • A 33% energy reduction is seen when new products are made from recyclable plastics.
  • 95% less energy is used to make new aluminum cans out of old ones. Recycling just one pop can saves enough energy to power a television for three hours. Throwing away a single aluminum can is like pouring out six ounces of gasoline.

Do you have any experience sorting your garbage for proper disposal that you might share with us? I’m wondering if painted wood would be considered clean or dirty, and what happens with smaller appliances, like busted hair dryers?

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1 comment

How to Declutter Your Life - Slim.Fast March 22, 2011 at 11:36 am

[…] Create piles: You’ll want at least 2 bags: garbage and recycling; and at least 2 boxes: special recycling and donation store (or garage sale if you’re up to it). For the special recycling box, this is for toxic items like old bath & body products, batteries, light bulbs, etc. For more on special waste, check out How to Properly Sort Waste for Disposal. […]


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