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From TVs to toilets, what can and can't be tossed to the curb

Ryan Delaney
A broken, old television sits on a curb in Syracuse.

An old television sitting on a curb in Syracuse has been there so long weeds are starting to grow through it. Trash scrappers already came and smashed it in two to remove the valuable items inside, like copper wiring. All that’s left is the plastic frame and glass screen. 

"TVs are not supposed to be out on the curb anymore," said Syracuse Public Works Commissioner Pete O'Connor. "However, the dilemma we have in the city of Syracuse is, we all know they’re out there."

From old television sets to toilets, broken and unwanted items are often put out with the trash to hopefully be forgotten about. But not everything can be left on the curb for Onondaga County trash haulers to take away.

O’Connor said his department is left in a difficult position on removing TVs that sit on curbs. The city's official policy is they're not going to take them. But eventually, someone has to.

It’s illegal to just throw old tube televisions away in the trash because the screens contain hazardous lead, so if the DPW doesn't take the TV away eventually, it will sit on the curb indefinitely. 

There are a number of drop-off sites in Onondaga County to bring TVs for free or a small fee, according to the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, known as OCRRA. Similar guidelines go for computers and other electronics.

"Televisions that are the older style televisions, what we call a tube TV or CRT, are particularly important to make sure they’re properly recycled," said OCRRA's Kristen Lawton.

Recent law changes on disposing of electronics have been both useful, and confusing, she said. 

"There have been a lot of successes with this," said Lawton. "We’ve kept thousands of pounds of electronics out of the waste stream. However, there’s been some small problems with the implementation."

For O’Connor, it comes down to finding a balance.

"We pick them up even though we shouldn’t be, because if not, the city of Syracuse would be a mess. And we already get enough complaints that the city of Syracuse is a mess," he said. "And believe me, we do our best to make sure it’s not a mess."

How to dispose of unconventional trash items, like mattresses, varies from municipalities. Most suburban residents subscribe to private trash haulers. 

Tires are another difficult item to dispose of, since they can’t go out with the trash either. But Syracuse will haul them off if you call the city’s help line first.

"We’re pretty lenient in the city," O'Connor said. "We take almost anything," like the smashed up television at the end of the street, eventually.

Big items, like toilets and other construction debris, will be taken as part of a semi-annual collection in Syracuse, but not through regular weekly pickup.

In the rest of Onondaga County, empty oil or latex paint cans can be dried out and disposed of, but any leftover oil-based paint must be brought to a drop-off center. For suburban and rural residents, most construction debris needs to be brought to the dump yourself.

Lawton said people should visit OCRRA’s website to look up how to dispose of abnormal items. And she said people can schedule appointments to bring in nearly anything that may be dangerous - like chemicals - to OCRRA, for free.