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Spring Cleaning? Here's Where to Take Your Stuff

  • 5/18/2016 3:27:00 PM
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Know where to take your stuff when you clean out the garage and under the sink | Iowa DNRFrom the March/April 2016 issue of Iowa Outdoors
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Disposing of expired or unused medicine, including over-the-counter products, can be a headache. Trashed meds could end up in the mouths of children or pets, causing poisoning. Those flushed or rinsed down the drain can end up in lakes, streams and water supplies. Meds in waterbodies may harm fish, wildlife and habitats, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To properly rid meds:

  • Follow specific disposal info on drug labels or patient information. Do not flush down sink or toilet unless label advises to.      
  • Call your pharmacy to see if it or another community entity employs a drug take-back or mail-back program. Search “drug disposal” at for links to authorized collectors nearby. Or check with city or county waste services to learn disposal options. 
  • If there are no specific disposal instructions and no authorized collectors in your area, place meds, including liquids, in a plastic bag or can. To make them less desirable, cover with kitty litter, ash, coffee grounds or sawdust. Place in trash.

Cleaners: Determine if the product is hazardous. Look for words like “Danger,” Caution,” Warning” and “Toxic.” Use product up and dispose of container per label instructions. Take leftover hazardous materials to your local Regional Collection Center (RCC). 

Opt for less harmful, nature-based products, like coconut or lemon oil. Look for products that can do more than one job. Less toxic, DIY “green” cleaners can save money, too. Countless home recipes exist using baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, essential oils and herbs. 

Paint: Oil-based paints contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and must be disposed of at an RCC. Small amounts of latex paints may be disposed in the trash, but first remove the lid to allow paint to dry or mix with kitty litter. RCCs also accept latex. Or reuse quality paints by donating to neighbors, church groups or others in the community. Many RCCs operate swap shops. To locate the nearest RCC, go to To minimize future waste, determine how much is needed by adding the length of each wall to establish perimeter. Multiply perimeter by ceiling height for square footage. Subtract square footage of unpainted areas like windows and doors. On the paint can, use coverage data to see how much to buy using square footage.  

Oil/filters: Oil doesn’t wear out, it just gets dirty and can be reused. Never dump oil down drains, sanitary sewers or in the trash. It can be hazardous to human health and the environment. Some auto-related businesses serve as drop-off points, or take to your local RCC. For business locations that accept used oil and filters, visit

Electronics: So how to junk that old flip phone and mega-pound desktop computer? Some electronic retailers, including big-name stores, offer drop off programs. Some even offer store credit. Check retailer websites for details. Nonprofits and local governments often sponsor recycling. Visit for a location in your area. Manufacturers, like Apple, Dell and Toshiba, offer recycling options—sometimes even company credit or free shipping.   

Batteries: Some 180,000 tons of batteries are thrown out each year, adding harmful cadmium, cobalt, nickel-iron and lead to the environment. The Call2Recycle network accepts button, sealed lead acid, NiCd and Li-Ion batteries at no charge. Find your nearest collection site at RCCs also recycle button, rechargeable and small or large lead acid batteries at no charge. Contact your solid waste agency or RCC for more details. 

Lightbulbs: Lightbulbs of all kinds can be recycled. Many retailers accept them, or call your solid waste agency or RCC. Switching from incandescent or halogen bulbs to efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), or even more efficient light-emitting diode (LEDs) to save money on utilities. 

Many cities offer composting, charging a fee for large bins or small fees to pick up one-time-use bags. To save some green, go green and turn yard and kitchen waste into something that grows green with compost—a great soil amendment and fertilizer for gardens, lawns and flowers beds. 

Make it free using a 3x3x3-foot compost pile— a manageable size to turn and ideal for retaining heat while allowing proper air flow. Compost decomposes fastest between 120 and 160° F. Build the pile 
in direct sunlight. Black compost bins help retain heat. Re-use pallets to build a bin for free. 
Compost should be roughly 30 parts carbon (browns) to 1 part nitrogen (greens). Good carbon sources include dry leaves, straw and dry hay, woodchips and sawdust from untreated wood, dried grass clippings, shredded paper, egg and nut shells, hair and animal fur, paper, shredded newspaper, paper towels and paper tubes. Good green choices are vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags and leaves, fresh grass clippings and plant trimmings from the garden and yard. Do not compost fats, pet droppings, animal products, grease, dairy products, diseased plants or items treated with pesticides. 

Keep piles damp but not wet—like a wrung out sponge. As you add material, ensure each layer is moist. Turn the pile often to speed decomposition. When finished, compost should look, feel and smell like rich, dark soil and you should not recognize the starter materials.

Check with your local recycle service for allowable material, since some items—like plastic grocery bags—aren’t accepted in recycle bins. Return the bags to the grocery store for recycling. Consider avoiding them altogether by using sturdy, reusable cloth or plastic tote bags instead.  

For more ideas, visit our Earth Day Every Day, In Your Own Backyard and Iowa Outdoors Magazine boards on Pinterest.

Here's where to take that stuff after you clean out the garage and under the sink | Iowa DNR