Debris Removal: The Complete Guide to Getting Rid of Anything
What’s the best way to get rid of _______? Not all wastes are destined for the trashcan. Situations where you have bulk amounts of debris, or you have items that are banned by your local waste hauler, require a different course of action. Below we’ll take a look at various types of wastes and the best ways to dispose of them.
There are several methods for disposing of unwanted junk and debris and each has its place. The primary ways to get rid of “stuff” include recycling, renting a dumpster, hiring a junk removal company, hauling it yourself, and dropping it off at HHW disposal events/facilities.
Here’s a quick look at each disposal method:
This is probably the most desirable outcome. It helps reduce landfill waste and has a low impact on the environment. Donating usable items instead of throwing them out is also an ideal outcome. Consider reusing, donating, or recycling before all other disposal methods.
Rent a Dumpster:
Dumpsters come in a wide range of size,s from 3 cubic yard dumpster bags to full-size 40 cubic yard construction dumpsters. It’s an ideal solution for construction, demolition, house cleanouts, roofing, yard waste disposal, and recycling in bulk.
Hire a Junk Removal Service:
This is a great option for disposal of e-waste, tough-to-dispose-of wastes, and bulk amounts of debris. It’s a convenient option—they handle all the removal and disposal for you. It can become costly for larger cleanups, so it’s something to consider when deciding between renting a dumpster and hiring a junk hauling service.
If you have a truck and/or trailer, hauling the debris yourself to a local landfill is always an option. The advantage of this method is the lower cost of disposal compared to renting a roll-off, although the tradeoff is less convenience and speed. The time it takes you to drive and drop off the debris at the nearest landfill can be substantial. Also, hazardous materials require a permit to haul, so do your due diligence as to the laws in your area regarding the types of waste you are allowed to haul and the types of debris accepted at local landfills (e.g., some accept only C&D debris and not household trash).
HHW Facility or Event:
Household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities safely process and recycle potentially toxic wastes, such as e-waste, household cleaners, paint, chemicals, medicines, and liquids. Some communities host HHW events on an annual or biannual basis. Find the nearest HHW drop off location online by visiting Earth911.com.
And now, let’s discuss specific types of wastes and how to properly get rid of each type.
Types of Junk, Waste, and Debris
Household trash and general wastes
Examples: household garbage, furniture, broken toys, packaging materials
This category of waste includes anything you’d typically put in your waste bin. Generally, this category of waste is taken care of via your waste hauler’s curbside collection service, but there are situations where additional means are necessary, such as:
- Hoarding situations
- Foreclosure cleanups
- Special events that generate a lot of trash
Best disposal method for bulk amounts: When you have more than your roll cart can handle, a roll-off container works great for bulk amounts of household trash. Alternatively, hiring a junk removal company to pick up the trash for you is a convenient disposal method, too, and it may be a more cost-effective option for smaller jobs (less than a few cubic yards of waste).
You could also haul these wastes to the landfill yourself if you live within close proximity of one.
Considerations: Disposal of appliances containing Freon, paints, liquids, lead-acid batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, and other household hazardous wastes (HHWs) require special handling. These wastes shouldn’t be mixed in with your household garbage. Contact your city’s solid waste department to find the nearest HHW facility, or visit the city’s website for more information.
Construction & demolition (C&D) debris
Examples: lumber, drywall (sheetrock), wood flooring, carpeting, renovation debris, roofing debris
Residential and commercial construction or demolition projects require the use of a dumpster, junk removal company, or driving the debris to the landfill yourself. Some U.S. cities require C&D debris to be dropped off at dedicated construction and demolition landfill facilities where it is separated and recycled.
Here’s a quick breakdown of common C&D debris types:
Concrete: Like asphalt, this is a very heavy, dense debris that is best disposed of in a roll-off dumpster. Most dumpster rental companies require concrete to be separated from other wastes, and it must be loaded in a smaller container, such as a 10 yard bin, to ensure it does not become too heavy of a load for the roll-off truck to handle.
Roofing shingles: This is a heavy debris that is generally loaded in its own dumpster and not in mixed loads. Shingles are recycled in most municipalities.
Wood/lumber: Wood has a potential to be reused if salvaged properly. Reclaiming wood and selling or donating it is one way to cut down on disposal costs for a project.
Carpeting: A junk removal company offers the most convenient disposal solution in this case. Renting a dumpster or having your waste hauler pick it up are also valid options. Many waste haulers require the carpeting to be cut down to a specified length (e.g., 4 ft. lengths), so that may add to the inconvenience of going this route.
Wood/Laminate wood flooring: This material is salvageable in many cases. This would, again, help cut down on disposal costs. If reclaiming the wood isn’t an option, other cost-effective solutions include renting a roll-off or hiring a junk removal company to pick it up.
Siding: Certain types of siding, such as cedar, are highly desirable, and people will often take it off your hands. This is great for cutting down on disposal costs. Simply posting a listing on Craigslist is an easy way to accomplish getting rid of cedar or wood siding. Vinyl siding is typically disposed of in a dumpster or picked up by a junk removal company. A dumpster is generally the more cost-effective option for a whole-house siding replacement project.
Kitchen/Bathroom renovation: This includes cabinets, tubs, sinks, toilets, countertops, and floors. Much of this material can be reclaimed. Other materials can be disposed of in a roll-off container or via junk removal service. Most waste haulers do not accept renovation debris via curbside service. However, some will by appointment for an additional fee.
Metals: Bulk amounts of steel, aluminum, copper, and other metals should be recycled. Metal is a valuable commodity. You can eliminate disposal costs and make a few bucks by dropping off metal scraps at a local scrap yard. If you cannot DIY, some metal recyclers may be able to pick it up, or you can post an ad on Craigslist.
Examples: tree limbs, bush trimmings, grass clippings
Being that it’s an organic waste, yard debris is best disposed by composting, but dumpsters and junk removal companies are good options, too. Dumpster companies and junk removal service providers will drop off the yard wastes at the proper facility.
*Most waste haulers don’t allow yard debris mixed in with general waste.
Heavy yard wastes, such as large logs, are best handled by professionals who have the right equipment to safely load and haul away such debris. Most junk removal companies have the right equipment to take on this type of project.
TIP: Consider starting a compost pile if you have the room to do so. It’s the easiest and least expensive way to get rid of yard debris, plus it produces nutrient-rich compost ideal for farming, landscaping, and flower gardens.
Be sure you know the laws regarding yard waste disposal in your area. Some cities have made yard debris composting mandatory. In this case, you’d need to have the debris dropped off at the proper composting facility. It may not be accepted at the municipal landfill, so be sure to do your due diligence. Search your city’s solid waste authority website or give them a call to learn more.
Examples: kitchen stove (range), microwave, washer, dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator
Hiring a junk removal company for removal of one or several appliances is a quick and cost-effective method of removal. Junk haulers charge a minimum fee of anywhere from $50 to $125, so expect to be charged at least that amount for the appliance removal.
A dumpster works well for disposal of a whole home's worth of appliances, such as during a major renovation project or demolition.
TIP: Choose a bigger dumpster than you think you need. Why? Most roll-off containers have rounded bottoms, while most appliances are bulky and square. So while you may have 10 cubic yards worth of appliances (think of 10 kitchen stoves, which approximately equals 10 cubic yards), the appliances will consume greater than 10 cubic yards worth of space inside a dumpster. In this example, a 20 yard bin may be the better choice.
Save on disposal costs by donating working appliances to local charitable organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity. Some locations may even pick them up for free, so be sure to ask! Alternatively, you can sell appliances that are still in good shape via Craigslist, Facebook, or by other means.
Household hazardous wastes (HHWs)
Examples: lead-acid batteries, fluorescent bulbs, household cleaners, motor oil, chemicals
This class of wastes should never be mixed in with the general waste stream, so avoid putting household hazardous wastes in the waste bin, dumpsters, burning it, burying it, or using any other unsafe disposal method. Doing so can taint drinking water, harm local wildlife, produce unsafe crops at local farms, and pollute the air.
Dispose of HHWs by dropping them off at a local HHW processing facility. Some communities also host annual or biannual HHW pickup events where you can drop off a wide range of hazardous wastes found in your home. Junk removal companies, and some dumpster rental providers, will accept HHWs if you discuss it beforehand. There may or may not be additional fees for handling/hauling of hazardous materials—it depends upon the company and local laws governing HHW handling.
Here’s a quick breakdown of common types of HHWs:
Batteries: Common A, AA, AAA, D, and similar dry-cell batteries can be thrown away with your trash. However, car batteries and other larger batteries need to be properly recycled.
Liquids: This includes motor oil, antifreeze, household cleaners, fuel, and other toxic/flammable liquids. Motor oil can be safely dropped off for recycling at a local oil change facility or car dealership that provides service. Other liquids can usually be dropped off at an HHW facility or cleanup event.
Light bulbs: Fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) shouldn’t be mixed in with household trash. They contain small amounts of mercury. Drop these off at the nearest recycling facility that accepts CFLs. Some retailers, such as Lowe's and IKEA, also accept CFLs for proper recycling. Learn more about CFL recycling.
Medicines: Dispose of medications at your local cleanup event or HHW processing facility. If you do not have access to this type of event or facility, you can dispose of medicines in the following manner:
- Mix medicines with dirt, kitty litter, or coffee grounds.
- Place in a plastic Ziploc bag and seal it.
- Throw the bag in your trash receptacle.
- Remove prescription labels and/or scratch out any personal information on the bottle to protect your privacy. Throw bottle(s) away.
Explosives: Highly-flammable, combustible, and explosive wastes can be dangerous when mixed in with the general waste stream. Local laws dictate the proper way to dispose of wastes, like fuel, oil, fireworks, lighter fluid, matches, and others.
Paint: Wet paint must be dried before throwing it away. You can mix bulk amounts of paint with sand or similar material to dry it quickly. You can safely throw empty, dry paint cans into the trash or a rented dumpster. The one exception is if the paint is very old and may contain lead. It is unlikely this will be an issue considering lead paint was banned in 1978 (although lead-based paint was still sold for several years after that). If it’s a very old can of paint you need to dispose of, play it safe and bring it to a local recycling facility for proper disposal.
Examples: paper, cardboard, plastics, metal
Despite the slight downturn in recycling noted in recent years, access to recycling services is pretty extensive these days. For bulk amounts of recyclables, you have several options:
Rent a dumpster: Quick and easy option for DIYers. Clean load it with recyclable materials only and the rental company may offer a discount.
Have a junk service pick it up: Usually more expensive than renting a dumpster but much more convenient.
Drop it off at a recycling center: Cost-effective method for handling a low volume of recyclables.
Post an ad on Craigslist or Freecycle: Cheap and convenient way to get rid of recyclables. The potential downsides include having to wait potentially days or weeks (if ever) before finding someone to pick it up, and this method is generally limited to working well for valuable recyclables, such as metals. Visit Freecycle.org.
TIP: Bring scrap metals—copper pipes, steel, brass fittings, iron, junk cars, etc.—to a local metal scrap yard to get paid for your scraps. Some recycling facilities will even purchase bulk amounts of paper, cardboard, and plastics. For example, Padnos is a full-service recycler serving most of the State of Michigan and will purchase most types of recyclables (in bulk amounts).
Food scraps and other organic wastes
Food and organic scraps can be composted. Not all food scraps are ideal for composting, however. Wastes that are excellent compost materials include:
- Egg shells
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Clean paper and newspaper
- Vacuum residuals
- Hair and nail clippings
- Dirt, soil, grass clippings, dead leaves, and small tree limbs
Do not compost meats, cheeses/dairy, plastics, fats, dirty paper/paper towels, breads, dog/cat wastes (grass-eating animal wastes are ok), or processed foods.
If you have a bulk amount of food or organic waste to dispose of, discuss solutions with your waste hauler or a dumpster rental provider near you.
Tires are banned for disposal in landfills in the majority of states within the United States. Instead, they can be recycled or reused. Bring old automobile tires to a tire retailer for recycling. There may be a small fee involved in some cases.
Alternatively, you can sell or give away tires that still have some tread left. Recyclers, artists, and companies that work with rubber may also take them off your hands for free. Post an ad on Craigslist, Facebook, or Freecycle.org to get started.
Junk removal companies also haul away tires, and this is a cost-effective and convenient option if you have a large number of tires to offload.
Asbestos, mold, and lead paint
Found on drywall, paint, roofing materials, and other building materials.
These toxic substances are more prevalent in older homes or commercial buildings. Before starting a renovation, demolition, or construction project in an older home, be sure to have it tested for asbestos, mold, and lead paint.
Here’s a brief breakdown of each:
Asbestos: Asbestos fibers are released into the air when affected material, such as drywall, is disturbed. Left alone, asbestos isn’t harmful; it’s during renovation or demolition that the asbestos is released into the air. Exposure can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and lung problems. Symptoms may not appear for years after exposure. Learn more.
Mold: Avoid dangerous mold by controlling moisture inside your home, repairing leaks, and cleaning up after natural disasters. Mold can often hide behind walls. If you spot a large area of it, it’s best to leave the removal to the professionals. In terms of disposal, a mold removal specialist will properly discard of the materials for you. Otherwise, you can dispose of small quantities of moldy materials in a dumpster if the debris is bagged or wrapped in plastic. Learn more.
Lead paint: How you dispose of lead paint debris depends upon how much of it is present and what your state’s laws are regarding disposal. If a sample of the debris contains less than 100 milligrams of lead per kilogram, you can typically dispose of it like regular municipal waste. If concentrations of lead are greater than that benchmark, special disposal procedures must be followed. It’s best to hire a lead paint abatement specialist to test for lead paint and to dispose of it if necessary. Learn more.
To summarize, asbestos materials always require special disposal procedures, while mold and lead paint tainted debris can be disposed of the same way you would any other C&D debris as long as the levels are low.
Rent a dumpster for larger cleanups, or hire a junk hauler to come pick up smaller amounts of debris. Always inform the rental company or junk removal provider that the debris is tainted.
Automobile fluids and chemicals
Examples: motor oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid, cleaners, brake fluid
Most chemicals and liquids are required to be disposed of at a licensed household hazardous waste (HHW) facility. Cities that do not have such a facility will typically hold HHW collection events once or twice per year where you can drop off chemicals and other hazardous wastes.
Used motor oil can be brought to an oil change facility or auto parts store for proper recycling. Call ahead just to be sure.
Never dispose of auto fluids or chemicals in the trashcan or a dumpster. Refer to Earth911 for more information and to find a local automotive fluids recycler near you.
Examples: computers, TVs, VCRs, DVD players, tablets, phones, other electronic devices
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is growing in the U.S., and proper disposal of this debris is often misunderstood. Most e-waste is not allowed in the general waste stream; it should be properly recycled to avoid heavy metal contamination and other potential hazards.
Some states, including California and New York, have banned disposal of e-waste in landfills or waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities. Instead of throwing e-waste in the trash, it should go to the proper recycling facility.
What to do with e-waste?
- Drop it off at a local electronics recycling facility.
- Hire a junk removal company to pick up the e-waste from you and drop it off at the proper recycling facility.
- Drop it off at a household hazardous waste recycling event in your area. (Not all e-waste is accepted, so call ahead.)
For more information about how to dispose of specific types of waste, how to rent a roll-off, hiring a junk removal company, and other related information, check out the links below: