What can you put in a dumpster? The answer seems kind of simple: garbage, right?
But there are plenty of rules as to what you can and can’t throw into a municipal dumpster. Throwing things like whole tires or hazardous materials into a dumpster is illegal and could get you fined. And if your dumpster is a rental, you could be breaking your contract by putting certain things in the trash.
So even if you think you’re confident, it’s best to brush up on your knowledge of dumpster rules before you throw anything questionable away. Scroll down to learn what you can and can’t throw in a dumpster.
What Can You Throw in a Dumpster?
You can throw almost any non-hazardous waste or junk into a dumpster. That includes:
1. Alkaline Batteries
In every state except California, regular batteries (like AAA, AA, C, D, button cell, and 9 Volt) can go in the dumpster. However, you can recycle batteries if you’d like by bringing them to your municipality’s recycling center. You can also use Earth911’s Recycling Search to search for facilities in your area.
Many people may recall that they were required to recycle single-use batteries for many years. That’s because alkaline batteries were manufactured with mercury, which is toxic to the environment, until the mid-1990s.
Alkaline batteries now fall below federal and state standards for household hazardous waste (in every state except California), and it’s okay to put them in a dumpster.
2. Construction & Home Improvement Debris
Almost all construction waste can be thrown in a dumpster. This includes:
- Bathroom fixtures
- Lumber and wooden materials
- Subfloor materials
However, if your materials are especially heavy, you may need to rent a specially reinforced dumpster.
3. Drained Appliances
Most appliances like washers, dryers, and AC units can go into a dumpster, but with one very important caveat: they must have all hazardous fluids and components drained first. If you want to throw them out without draining them, you’ll have to hire a professional.
The same rule applies to refrigerators — they must be completely drained of freon before they can go into a dumpster, so it’s often easier to just pay to have them hauled away.
In most service areas, you can throw individual household electronics in a dumpster. However, if you’re cleaning out an office or have a large amount of electronics to get rid of, you’ll likely have to recycle them as e-waste.
There are 25 states with electronics recycling laws:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
How to Donate or Recycle e-Waste
You can sustainably dispose of electronics at your local e-waste recycling center, or you can consult one of the many office supply and electronics brands that offer in-store and mail-in options for recycling old electronics. Stores and brands that accept recycled electronics include:
- Best Buy
- Hewlett-Packard (HP)
- Office Depot
- Office Max
It’s also always nice to consider donating your electronics — even if an item is broken. Some charities partner with tech specialists to harvest items for parts and use them to refurbish electronics. The charities then use the refurbished electronics to benefit local communities, either by donating them directly or by reselling them and putting the funds toward a good cause.
Goodwill’s Reconnect Partnership, Human-I-T, and The Wireless Foundation are all great places to donate old or broken electronics for a good cause.
5. Empty Aerosol Cans
Aerosol cans (like hairspray, non-stick cooking spray, etc.) are safe to throw in a dumpster only if they’re empty. If an aerosol can is even partially full, it can explode.
6. Household Junk
You can put any household junk that’s nonhazardous in a dumpster. The EPA defines household hazardous waste as any product that “can catch fire, react, or explode under certain circumstances, or that are corrosive or toxic.”
Examples of nonhazardous household junk include regular trash, furniture, yard materials like shingles or siding, construction debris, and most appliances.
If you’re not sure whether something is hazardous, you can check the EPA’s household hazardous waste page to learn more.
7. Wooden Furniture
Wooden furniture is almost always acceptable to throw into a dumpster. This means wooden chairs, tables, cabinets, shelves, and other furniture items that are made entirely of wood are safe to send to the landfill.
However, furniture that is upholstered — couches, armchairs, etc. — are subject to different rules that vary from place to place. Scroll down to the “upholstered furniture” section of this page to learn more.
8. Yard Waste
Junk from nature isn’t technically garbage — it was there first, after all — but things like sticks, leaves, brush, storm debris, and other environmental flotsam in your yard is okay to throw in a dumpster.
What Can’t You Throw in a Dumpster?
It’s very important to understand what can’t be thrown in a dumpster. Some of these items can be incredibly dangerous, while others can simply net you a fee for improper waste disposal from your government or your dumpster rental company.
Be sure to avoid these things when using a dumpster for disposal.
Glue, epoxy, and other adhesives are not allowed in dumpsters since they can bind other materials to the dumpster walls.
If your home has asbestos, many things that would otherwise be allowed in a dumpster (like renovation debris, roof tiling, etc.) cannot be placed in a dumpster since they are considered contaminated.
Anyone whose house contains asbestos should hire a licensed contractor to perform all waste removal professionally.
3. Contaminated Soils and Absorbents
Given that hazardous materials are not allowed in a dumpster, it follows that anything contaminated with hazardous materials — like contaminated soil, mulch, etc. — also cannot be put in a dumpster.
To dispose of contaminated soils and absorbents, contact your state EPA or look up your nearest household hazardous waste drop-off center.
4. Hazardous Materials
All hazardous materials must be disposed of by professional hazardous waste collectors. This includes common household substances like pesticides, motor oil, automotive fluids, freon, asbestos, etc.
To dispose of household hazardous materials, contact your state EPA office and ask for the location of the nearest household hazardous waste drop-off center.
5. Household Cleaning Fluids
Though empty cleaning supply bottles can be recycled, the actual solutions inside those bottles should not be thrown in a dumpster.
If you need to dispose of household cleaning fluid, first check the label for any specific disposal instructions. If none are provided, the American Cleaning Institute suggests considering the function of the chemical in question for guidance on how to get rid of it. For instance, laundry or dish detergent are normally drained through plumbing after use, so it is generally safe to pour them down the drain combined with running water.
6. Hot Water Tanks
You can’t put hot water tanks into a dumpster, because the empty space inside the hot water tank can collect harmful gases and may eventually explode.
If you’re getting rid of a hot water tank, it’s usually because you’re replacing it with a new one, so contact the hot water company to see if the person delivering the new unit can pick up your old heater while they’re at your house.
Otherwise, you can contact a professional junk hauler or your local waste management facility and inquire about curbside pickup for your hot water tank.
7. Ink & Resins
Printer ink, pen ink, and resins can damage and stain dumpsters and landfill equipment. Therefore, they are not allowed to be thrown away in dumpsters. Most office supply stores have drop-off recycling programs for these items.
8. Medical Infectious Waste
Medical infectious waste is defined as any material used in medicine or anything that has come into contact with bodily fluids. This includes:
- Animal carcasses or body parts
- Dialysis waste
- Hospital blood bags
- Human blood or blood-soaked fabrics
- Unused or expired drugs and prescriptions
- Used needles and sharps
Most medical household waste, like bandages or tools used to treat an injury that didn’t require a doctor’s care, are not considered medical infectious waste. This category is most relevant to doctor’s offices and medical laboratories rather than homes.
If you do find yourself in possession of legitimate medical infectious waste, you can contact your state EPA or health agency for guidance on how to dispose of it.
9. Non-Alkaline Batteries
Unlike household batteries, which fall below federal standards for household hazardous waste, many other types of batteries are very toxic to the environment and should never be thrown in a dumpster.
Batteries that should never go in a dumpster include:
- Car batteries
- Computer batteries
- Lead-acid batteries
- Lithium ion batteries
- Rechargeable batteries
- Silver oxide batteries
You can find out where to recycle your batteries by calling your local municipal waste authority or using Earth911’s Recycling Search tool.
10. Oils, Fuels, and Propane Tanks
Any flammable material like propane tanks, gasoline, oil, or fuel absolutely cannot be thrown into a dumpster. Improperly disposing of highly combustible materials is a serious safety risk and illegal in most areas. Contact your local fire department or hazardous waste collector to find out how to dispose of flammable items properly.
11. Paint and Lacquers
Paint, lacquer, paint thinner, and wood stain are not allowed in dumpsters because they often contain lead or mercury. Empty paint cans, however, are allowed — as is dry latex paint (as long as it’s wrapped in a plastic bag.)
Empty, dried paint cans can be recycled with other metals in your regular recycling bin.
12. Undrained Appliances
You can’t put a refrigerator in a dumpster unless it has been completely drained of the refrigerant it contains. Though refrigerators themselves are not toxic, freon is, and the penalty for releasing it into the environment can be upwards of $25,000.
Though it’s possible to drain freon from a refrigerator, most people opt to contact their local waste management authority or a private waste removal company and schedule a professional pick-up.
13. Whole Tires
Whole tires are not allowed in landfills because the hollow space at the center of a tire can trap methane gasses when it gets buried by other garbage. The methane will cause the tire to actually “float” to the surface of the landfill, pushing aside other garbage and potentially rupturing the protective liner that keeps the landfill from polluting the environment.
You can get rid of a tire by bringing it to an auto parts store or local recycler to be turned into rubber mulch.
Things That Sometimes Go in a Dumpster
In many cases, whether or not something is allowed in a dumpster depends on local laws and regulations. For these items, it’s best to contact your community’s waste management company or government office.
Some areas allow dirt to be disposed of in dumpsters, but many locations have different regulations regarding dirt disposal. You can also rent special dirt-only dumpsters that are built to make load-in and disposal of dirt and rocks easier.
Call your local waste management office to find out how to handle dirt disposal in your area — some communities offer free dirt hauling, so you may be pleasantly surprised!
2. Event Waste
Typically, food waste and household garbage should go into a household garbage can, not directly into a dumpster. However, events often result in stereotypically “domestic” waste being thrown into dumpsters.
In most areas, small quantities of food waste can be thrown in a dumpster without penalty. However, some areas prohibit food waste in dumpsters entirely, so be sure to check your local waste disposal laws before hosting your event.
3. Mattresses and Box Springs
Unless specifically allowed in your service areas, mattresses and box springs are not allowed to be thrown in dumpsters. This is because mattresses are composed largely of steel, wood, and cotton — all materials that can be recycled and are wasted in landfills.
If you want to get rid of a mattress, you can go online and learn how to take it apart and strip the recyclable materials away from the mattress waste. Or you can consult Bye Bye Mattress, a recycling program hosted by the Mattress Recycling Council, which offers free drop-off and recycling at thousands of facilities across the country.
4. Tree Stumps
Most yard waste can usually go in the dumpster, but there are particular rules about the size and type of waste — for instance, some locations may charge an additional fee per tree stump.
5. Upholstered Furniture
In most cases, wooden furniture is allowed in dumpsters but upholstered furniture is not. However, some communities do allow upholstered furniture to be included with regular waste, sometimes for an additional fee.
When in Doubt, Who to Ask
Though this guide gives a comprehensive rundown of the rules governing most waste service areas, each municipality has its own regulations and it’s never a bad idea to check with local authorities to find out what you can and can’t throw in a dumpster.
There are federal, state, and local regulations governing waste disposal. The most accurate information for your location will come from your local government office, which should have a comprehensive list of rules as well as pickup schedules and contact information for specialized waste disposal services.
You can also find additional information at the state level by contacting a state representative of the Environmental Protection Agency.
If you think an item might be recyclable, you can check by entering your zip code in this tool to find local information on recycling regulations in your area.
In some cases, you might also be able to donate your items instead of throwing them out. Furniture, appliances, clothing, toys, and more can all find new homes with others instead of in the landfill. Some charities will even come pick up items directly from your home.
If you do decide that a dumpster is the best way to dispose of your project’s waste, the next step is figuring out the dumpster size and what type of dumpster you need. Depending on your project, you might need a dumpster that’s large or small, capable of holding heavy waste, designed for dirt-only projects, front-loading, side-loading and more.
The best way to figure out what kind of dumpster will work best is to talk to a professional who can help. That way you’ll know for sure that your waste is being disposed of effectively, responsibly, and — most importantly — safely.