When to toss: Every few years for storage containers, immediately for disposable packaging
Why toss it: Plastic containers, especially those that are meant to be disposable, were not meant to be used forever. Plastic breaks down over time, which can cause chemicals to leach into your food. Check for signs of wear after each use, and toss any containers that appear discolored, warped, or cracked. You should also get rid of any containers that are missing a lid or have an unusual smell. Always dispose of single-use food packaging, such as yogurt containers or margarine tubs, immediately after you’re finished with the product.
Before you toss plastic containers in the garbage,
check to see if it’s recyclable by looking for the stamped number inside the triangular recycling logo, usually found on the bottom of containers and bottles. Most recycling centers take plastic Nos. 1 and 2—which include many beverage bottles, milk jugs, peanut butter jars, and other containers—but it’s best to check with your community’s program to verify which types of plastic they can accept. Expired Food
When to toss: On or near the expiration date
Why toss it: Expired foods can lurk at the back of your refrigerator and take up precious space needed for food you actually want to eat. To better organize your fridge, start with one shelf or area, remove all the items, and check the expiration date on each one. Throw it away immediately (or toss it in the compost bin!) if the date has passed or if you notice mold or an unpleasant smell. For prepared foods or leftovers, be sure to mark the date on the container when you first put it in the fridge so you know how long it’s been there. Dish Sponges
When to toss: After 1 month
Why toss it: Between washing dishes, scrubbing sinks, and wiping down countertops, sponges can come in contact with a lot of bacteria. To avoid spreading germs around your kitchen, it’s important to replace your sponge about once a month. In between changes, be sure to clean your kitchen sponges regularly using a method, such as vinegar, bleach, or high heat, that eliminates bacteria. If your sponge starts to look dirty or smell bad even after it’s been disinfected, you should swap it for a new one immediately. Pillows
When to toss: Every few years
Why toss it: The material inside pillows breaks down with daily use, and all the dust, oil, and debris from your face can transfer to the pillow’s surface and interior space. Dust mites also accumulate, which can be troublesome to people suffering from asthma or allergies.
To get rid of your old pillows, consider donating them (
after a good washing) to a local homeless shelter or animal shelter to be repurposed as bedding. However, because not all shelters will accept used pillows, it’s best to call ahead before bringing in your donation. Household Cleaners
When to toss: After 2 years
Why toss it: Many of the ingredients that make cleaners and disinfectants effective will break down after time, reducing their effectiveness. Throw them out after a few years and replace them with fresh bottles. Consider labeling the new cleaning products with the date you purchased them so you can easily tell how long you’ve had them.
To properly dispose of household cleaners, check the manufacturer instructions on the label first. Water-soluble cleaning products, such as all-purpose cleaners, detergents, and stain removers, in liquid or powder form can usually be poured down the drain with running water. Once the containers are empty, you can typically recycle them in your curbside bin. For hazardous chemicals like oven cleaners, contact your local waste disposal center to find the best way to dispose of them.
Cooking Oils, Herbs, and Spices
When to toss: 2 years for olive oil, 1 year for herbs and spices
Why toss: Light and heat will break down oils and spices over time and make them less flavorful. To extend their shelf life, store these items in a cool, dry spot. Oils will smell rancid when they’re no longer good, and spices will lose their distinctive aromas (pinch some between two fingers to test). Eye Makeup
When to toss: After 6 months
Why toss it: Most eye makeup has some basic preservatives to keep it fresh, but those wear down or can be overcome by bacteria after a few months. Bacteria from the environment or your face can transfer to the brushes and then the makeup itself, which can cause irritation or even infection. Refresh mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and other eye makeup products after about half a year. Sunscreen
When to toss: After every summer, or with the expiration date
Why toss it: The protective chemicals in sunscreen break down over time, reducing the ability of the product to block out damaging rays from the sun. If you can’t find an expiration date on your bottles, throw them out after pool season has ended. Opened Paint
When to toss: After 2-5 years
Why toss it: Once the can is opened, the components in paint start to separate and break down. After a few years, this can make the paint difficult to mix, even with the most vigorous stirring. To repaint a room, take the color formula specifications to your local paint, hardware, or big box store and have them mix up a new can of paint to match.
disposing of old paint, be sure to note the type of paint before deciding what to do with it. Oil- and alkyd-base paints are considered hazardous waste and typically need to be taken to a local hazardous waste drop-off site. You can dispose of old latex paint by throwing it in the trash, but you’ll need to dry it out completely first by using a paint hardener, cat litter, or shredded newspaper. Vitamins
When to toss: After 2 years, or the expiration date
Why toss it: Like most food items, vitamins degrade in quality over time. Check the packaging for an expiration date. If the vitamins are unused by then (or you can’t find a date), replace them with new ones. To safely dispose of old vitamins and other medications, the FDA recommends dropping them off at a drug take-back location near you.
Jessica Bennett and BH&G for this article.