While proper waste disposal has always been important, the stakes (and sheer number of receptacle colors to memorize) seem higher than ever. These days, the threat of inadvertently harming the planet along with the growing number of items we’re just not sure what to do with has turned the weekly curbside drop-off into an onerous — not to mention odorous — guessing game.

Not to fear: We’re happy to take the hesitation out of your tree-huggin’. Join the groundswell to reduce our ground’s swell by responsibly ridding yourself of these commonly mishandled items.

Cooking oil

Recycle or trash? Either.

Environmental impact: There are a couple of ways to dispose of used cooking oil, but pouring it down the drain is really (really!) not one of them. Oil wreaks havoc on city sewers and just a small amount of grease from several dwellings is enough to lead to blockages.

How to recycle it: Many cities have designated recycling centers for cooking oil. Instead of clogging sewers below the streets, your grease can become biofuel to power trains and buses atop them.

How to toss it: You can throw away used cooking oil (though as with most items, recycling is preferred whenever possible). Once you’re done deep-frying, let your oil cool and place in the garbage in a nonrecyclable container.

Option you hadn’t thought of: Strain and store the oil and then reuse it next time you cook (smell to make sure it hasn’t gone rancid first).  

Wine corks

Recycle or trash? Recycle (or compost, depending on type).

Environmental impact: Neither real nor plastic corks belong in the trash. There are roughly 13 billion wine corks sold in the U.S. annually (and that’s just the natural kind), an astonishing heap of dregs our landfills can do without.

How to recycle it: Real cork is 100 percent natural and can be composted. Another option for real corks is using national recycling programs such as ReCork or Cork ReHarvest, which repurpose them as shoes, lamp shades, and watch bands (just to name a few options). Plastic cork, on the other hand, can be recycled with your other plastics.

Option you hadn’t thought of: Bath mats … kitchen backsplash … 3-D artwork … let your imagination run wild! (Or just get twist-off vino. Who’re you trying to impress anyway?)

Frozen food boxes

Recycle or trash? Depends.

Environmental impact: Surprisingly, that frozen pizza box or ice cream tub might not belong in recycling. Freezer containers have a special polyethylene coating to keep out moisture, and this synthetic layer can contaminate an entire recycling batch. Some cities, however, do now allow for frozen food boxes, so check with your local government before the next pick up.

Check out:  3 Quick Steps to a Scratchless Dashboard

How to recycle it: If your area allows it, group with other paper recyclables.

Option you hadn’t thought of: Packages for T.V.-dinner-shaped holiday gifts, bookmark strips, or drink coasters.

Mattresses

Recycle or trash? Recycle.

Environmental impact: As beds get comfier, they become harder to throw away — and not just because you’re in hibernating bliss and refuse to get up. The resiliency of memory foam and box springs makes them incredibly difficult to compress in landfills, with each taking up to 40 cubic feet!

How to recycle it: To spare you the rigors of deconstructing your mattress or box spring and separating the recyclables on your own (unless maddening labor is your thing), look for a nearby mattress recycling center.

Option you hadn’t thought of: Donate in your community (or give your dog the napping upgrade of its sweet life).

Batteries

Recycle or trash? Um, it’s complicated.

Environmental impact: Batteries aren’t quite the ecological enemies they were in days past. The single-use shells you put in your remote are now free of harmful, heavy metals and can safely go in the trash. Can, but not necessarily should. Even without mercury and other toxins, batteries aren’t exactly on par with apple cores as far as Earth-friendliness. Only throw away in small quantities and only if toxin-free. But please do note: In California, it’s illegal to throw away batteries — they must be recycled.

How to recycle it: If your area doesn’t offer collection options, consider a mail-in service like this one through Battery Solutions.

How to toss it: Cover ends in masking tape and group multiple batteries in one bag.  

Option you hadn’t thought of: Rechargeable batteries. Ok, you’ve probably thought of that, but short of powering your remote devices via hand crank (and you thought shaving was a nuisance before), there’s no better solution.

Trash or treasure? Coverage for your (sometimes surprising) valuables

Trash versus recycling isn’t the only decision you can make with your supposed junk — you might consider not ditching it at all.

From old vinyl to costume jewelry, hidden valuables could be scattered throughout your home just waiting to be discovered. If you want to make sure you’re not mistakenly dropping serious dough at the curb, take a thorough home inventory.

And when it comes to protecting your valuables (dazzling or dust-covered), Esurance has your back. No matter what type of dwelling you call home, we’ll help you keep your stuff safe from theft, fire, and other risks. Start a free condo or homeowners insurance quote today.

Anf if you’re not done geeking out on renewable energy, find out how close are we to having a garbage-fueled car.

DIY hacks | Home and garden

about Alex

As copywriter for Esurance, Alex had professional experience in everything from film to literature to (thanklessly!) correcting the grammar in friends' emails. As a fervent Minnesota sports fan, he spends most of his non-writing time gently weeping into cereal bowls.