Montana Department of Environmental Quality About Us Permitting & Operator Assistance Public Participation

Recycling and Waste

Program Overview


Recycling Program 

Solid Waste Section Supervisor
Fredrick Collins (406) 444-9879

Materials Management Specialist
Dusti Johnson(406) 444-6499


Recycling Information


Yard and food wastes, alone, make up 28 percent of the waste stream (EPA, Municipal Solid Waste in The United States: 2012 Facts and Figures.) Composting is a perfect way to reuse the nutrients captured in those wastes and save landfill space.

Composting recycles organic wastes into a useful product that can be used by consumers, businesses and government agencies to enhance the health of soil and increase water-holding ability. Follow the links below to learn more about compost in Montana.

Backyard Composting

Recipe for Compost

Compost Business in Montana

Filter Berms and Erosion Control: Innovative Concepts for Compost Use

Why Does DEQ Promote Compost?


Cornell University Composting in Schools 

EPA Composting at Home

U.S. Composting Council

Household Hazardous Waste

Household hazardous wastes include products that are toxic and harmful to the environment.  Household hazardous wastes consist of dangerous chemicals that have the potential to catch fire, explode or negatively react, or have corrosive properties. Household hazardous waste (HHW) is that portion of a household product which is no longer usable, leftover or not wanted and has to be discarded or disposed. Many household products contain toxic ingredients and should not be discarded with the trash when other options are available.

We all have items in our home that contain toxic chemicals: cleaners, personal care products, pesticides, paints, solvents, and more.  Because we purchase and dispose of small amounts of these toxic chemicals, households are exempt from most laws regarding hazardous waste management.  However, if we were a large business, we would be required to track and manage such hazardous wastes carefully.  This is due to the potential for personal health impacts, as well as pollution impacts to air, water, and land resources.

Common HHW items include:

  • motor oil
  • automobile batteries
  • paints and solvents
  • household cleaners
  • drain openers
  • pesticides
  • compressed gas tanks (such as propane and oxygen)

There are many information sources about HHW and alternative products on the Internet. We have tried to pick a few of the best to include on this website, but encourage you to explore the Internet and find out more.

Household Hazardous Waste – This EPA website provides specific, helpful information to help you identify household products that could be harmful. It also provides information on storage and disposal. 

Health & Safety Information / Household Products Database – The National Library of Medicine database includes brand-specific labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) prepared by manufacturers.

Additional Recources: 

Helpful Hints

  • Buying just what you need and completely using up the product is another way of avoiding disposal of toxics into your trash.
  • NEVER pour HHW products down a sink, toilet or bathtub drain unless the products are made for that purpose.
  • NEVER pour used oil, pesticides and similar hazardous products on the ground or into storm drains.
  • DON’T store hazardous products in containers other than their original packaging.
  • DON’T remove labels from containers holding hazardous material.
  • When leftovers remain, never mix HHW with other products.
  • Follow product labels closely for use instructions and disposal information.
  • DON’T hesitate to call your local health, environmental, or solid waste agency with further questions concerning proper use and disposal of the product.

Montana HHW Programs

Two Montana communities have permanent, ongoing household hazardous waste (HHW) collection programs, and other communities have annual or occasional HHW collection events or paint exchanges. Many communities, however, do not have the funds to offer such programs to their citizens. (HHW events typically cost thousands of dollars due to the expensive processing and land filling costs of the hazardous materials collected.) Contact your county solid waste management office to find out how household hazardous waste is handled in your area.

Bozeman HHW Program – The City Shop Complex accepts HHW throughout the year by appointment only.

Flathead County Solid Waste District – A HHW Collection day is held on the third Saturday of every month. Call for an appointment by the second week to schedule. Or, print out the form and mail it in to be scheduled for the next event.

Missoula – A collection event is held annually in the fall, called Haz Waste Days.

Billings – An annual collection event is held on the first Saturday following Memorial Day at the Solid Waste Division office. 

Helena – A collection event for HHW is held annual each fall and latex paint exchanges are offered annually each spring and fall.  For more information, please contact City of Helena- Public Works Department at 406-447-8094

Assistance for Commercial and Industrial hazardous waste:

DEQ Hazardous Waste Program – find lists of hazardous waste consultants, transporters, and remediation firms.



Recovering energy from tires is being performed in other states, but is it the most desirable option for Montana?

The information presented in this website is not intended to answer the question posed above, but rather offers information for your consideration as you learn more about waste tire management options for Montana.

Please note: Tires are not classified as a hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies them as a Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Under EPA's guidelines, facilities that burn tires for fuel are not burning hazardous waste, not regulated as incinerators, and not covered by EPA's hazardous waste combustion regulations, but are regulated by EPA's laws and rules concerning the combustion of non-hazardous solid waste. Montana law is more stringent and does require that facilities applying for a permit to burn solid waste meet state incinerator regulations. These regulations require a health risk assessment that includes a review and evaluation of 188 hazardous air pollutants that are listed in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

What is energy recovery?

Energy recovery is the controlled combustion of tires or other solid waste to capture the energy value of materials as they are burned. The energy can either be captured and used for electricity generation (e.g. waste-to-energy facilities), or the energy can be used to supplement other fuel sources to run manufacturing processes (e.g. cement kilns). Tires have a high fuel value when compared to other materials in municipal solid waste and even some traditional fuel sources, such as coal.

Tire-Derived Fuel (TDF) is the term associated with tire chips or whole tires destined for energy recovery. TDF has been considered an attractive fuel source because tires have such a high BTU value.



Why Recycle?
The environmental and economic premise of recycling is sound: re-using natural resources over and over again after they have been extracted form the earth makes good sense. By conserving the dwindling supply of these resources and protecting the few remaining undamaged ecosystems left on the earth, we are preserving them for future generations. Overall, the processes used to make consumer goods from recycled material instead of raw resources are much more energy and water efficient. For example, recycled paper uses 60-70 percent less energy than virgin pulp and 55 percent less water. Also, making recycled products reduces greenhouse gas emissions and the need to build landfills.

Why can’t I recycle all plastics?
Most plastics can be recycled if there were markets (i.e., manufacturers who would use the plastic and turn it into a new product). Markets are the key factor in recycling all products. 

Why do I need to recycle my old thermostat?
Many thermostats used to control room temperatures in your home contain mercury. To identify mercury thermostats, remove the front plate and look for one or more small glass bulbs, known as tilt switches. These tilt switches contain mercury. Each tilt switch contains roughly three grams of mercury, though some may contain up to six grams. Mercury is very toxic and can leak out of the tilt switch bulbs to contaminate air, water and soil. These old thermostats should never be disposed of in the trash or local landfill. Most manufacturers have mail in programs that will take your thermostats back cost-free.

Why can’t I recycle neon/fluorescent/Astrobrite/dark-colored paper? How about construction paper?
These dark or super-bright papers are made with beater dyes, so named because they beat the dye into the fiber of the paper to get a dark or fluorescent color. Because there is so much ink in the fiber, it cannot be recycled in our recycling program because it is not possible to remove all the color from the paper in the recycling process. Dark paper may still be recyclable if the ink is printed on the paper as opposed to beaten into the paper fiber (e.g., a brochure printed on light paper with dark ink). To tell the difference, tear a corner of the paper. If the color goes all the way through, it can’t be recycled. If there are white fibers inside, it can be recycled with office paper.

Sometimes we are asked to put different types of paper into different containers. Why is this?
Manufacturing mills that use waste paper require certain quality and grades of paper that have been found to be suitable for manufacturing different products. Also, waste paper is a commodity whose different grades and qualities carry different values. It makes economic sense to separate out high quality grades. Paper is further sorted back at a recycling facility. There are more than 50 grades of waste paper divided into 11 groups. These groups cover material that can be used for recycled newsprint, tissues and industrial wipes, stationery and packaging.

Can I recycle cardboard pizza boxes?
Pizza boxes, while they do hold food, can be recycled. Made of corrugated cardboard, pizza boxes are a high-grade material that moves quickly through the market. However, most recyclers cannot accept pizza boxes soaked in grease and covered with cheese. If the box has lots of grease and cheese, tear that part off and throw it away (or compost it) and recycle the remaining part. And please wipe away any sauce or crumbs before tossing the box in the bin.

Why won't recyclers take cereal boxes along with cardboard?
If a recycler takes cereal boxes at all, they will probably accept it along with mixed waste paper. The "cardboard" from which cereal boxes are made is really known as chipboard or paperboard. It is not the same grade of paper as the corrugated cardboard used to make shipping and moving boxes. Of these two types of cardboard, corrugated cardboard has a much higher value as a recycled raw material. Chipboard has little or no value as a recycled raw material. If a recycling company tries to sell a bale of corrugated cardboard with chipboard mixed into it, the buyer might refuse not only the bale in question, but anything else the recycling company tries to bring in later. If the demand for products made from recycled chipboard increases, perhaps paper mills will be more willing to take it as a raw material (and pay a better price). The more attention we consumers give to purchasing recycled products, the better the chances that the economics of recycling will improve.

How do I recycle electronics?
Visit our Where To Recycle page to find a program that meets your needs.

When is the next E-waste collection event?
Check with your county or city, or contact us for assisstance.

How do I protect my security?
There are several Freeware apps that wipes hard drives clean and that destroys data available on the market.

Why should I recycle my electronics?
Televisions and computers each contain three to eight pounds of lead, and like most electronics, can contain a host of other toxic substances such as cadmium, mercury and arsenic. These toxic substances could contaminate groundwater when landfilled.

Why do I have to pay to recycle electronics?
Unlike aluminum cans, which have enough value that consumers can get paid to drop them off for recycling, electronics have little value in their current form. Although electronics do contain small amounts of gold, mercury, cadmium, chromium, nickel, zinc and other materials, recoverable amounts are not sufficient to generate significant income for recyclers. The fee you pay to recycle electronics helps offset the cost of collection, transportation, storage and marketing of the materials. In most cases, items must be disassembled before they can be recycled, a labor-intensive process that often requires handling toxic substances.

Can I buy a computer with fewer hazardous materials?
To learn about purchasing computers which are manufactured with reduced hazardous materials and increased ease of recycling, visit the EPEAT website.

Why are alkaline batteries not always recyclable?
Though it is possible to reclaim some metal from alkaline batteries, these batteries are not often recycled. Where they have been collected, it has generally been for disposal as a hazardous material. Mercury has been the ingredient of most concern in alkaline batteries. As currently manufactured, however, these batteries contain only a fraction of the mercury they once did. Many counties have therefore determined that the reduced risk in sending alkaline batteries to the landfill does not warrant the expense of collecting them for special disposal or recycling. You might consider switching to rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, which are widely recycled--after being reused many times.

Rechargeable batteries are not always NICAD, or are they?
No, they are not. Many cell phone and camcorder batteries, for instance, are small lead-acid batteries (the same materials used in a car's rechargeable battery). If you follow proper maintenance, such as recharging batteries only after the charge has been exhausted, they will last longer. 

There are many sources of information available to those wishing to learn about environmental health issues and trends in Montana and nationally. We’ve chosen a few of the best sites to include here.

Data and Trends

The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a publicly available EPA database that contains information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities reported annually by certain covered industry groups as well as federal facilities.

The Ground-Water Information Center (GWIC) at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG) is the central repository for information on the ground-water resources of Montana.

The Montana Soils Program provides quality soil survey information necessary for understanding, managing, conserving, and sustaining the nation's limited soil resources.

The Montana Surface Water Monitoring Program presents water quality conditions and trends statewide, and many more helpful water quality links.

The Montana Air Quality Information has links to reports, air pollution data, and forest fire updates.

EPA Region 8 Regional and state-specific environmental information.

EPA Pollutants/Toxics Homepage EPA has databases and documents with information about the effects and prevalence of pollutants and toxics in our environment.

Montana Environmental Health Education & Assessment Program (MEHEA) The Department of Public Health & Human Services has collected data about environmental hazards and human health effects potentially related to exposure to environmental hazards.



  • Electronics contain valuable metals and components that can be used again in another manufacturing process.
  • Cadmium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, chromium, barium, beryllium and brominated flame-retardant materials are components that can pollute water and air resources without proper disposal or recycling. E-waste did not even exist as a waste stream in 1989 and now it's one of the largest and growing exponentially. — Katharina Kummer Peiry, Executive Secretary, Basel Convention Excerpts from Basel Convention November 2009 Press Advisory:
“Hazardous waste is threatening human health and the environment globally. Much of it is being exported to other countries, often to developing nations.”
  • One of the fastest growing [hazardous] waste streams is e-waste such as computers, television sets and mobile cell phones.
  • When e-waste crosses borders illegally and is indiscriminately dumped, or dismantled in unsound conditions, serious damage to human health and pollution of water, air and soil is often the result.
  • Electronic waste is a direct consequence of our ongoing desire to communicate from anywhere, connect more often and compute from home, office or on the road. Add an increasing demand for electronic gaming, higher definition televisions or smart cars and the result is a catastrophic accumulation of e-waste, now and into the future. An ongoing effort to address this exponentially growing problem is essential.

Montana does not have legislation requiring electronic equipment be recycled or banning electronics from landfills. Due to Montana's distance from most markets for recyclables, it may not be in the state's best interests to ban materials from landfills until reliable markets have been established for those materials.

Learn more about illegal exporting of electronics.

Other Information:

 Where to Recycle

  • Recycling Locations
    There are year-round opportunities to recycle electronics in Montana. Be sure to carefully choose a legitimate business to avoid passing hazardous waste on to others that may be forced to place it in the landfill, or may sell it to others that ship hazardous waste illegally to foreign countries.
  • Collection Events
    Check with your county or city government for information on local collection events.
  • Try to Sell it
    Certain electronics may still have value, even if they don’t work. For example, buyers can be found online for cell phones and video gaming consoles. Other items, like GPS units, digital cameras, and Apple products may also be sought by online buyers.

Recycling Locations

The opportunities listed here include recycling companies that specialize in electronics (Yellowstone E-waste Solutions), some regional and national recyclers (Pacific Steel & Recycling, Republic Services), and some offer recycling as part of their business services (P.E.T.E.S. Palmer Electric, Valley Electrical, Opportunity e-Cycling).


Details / Accepts

Yellowstone E-waste Solutions

419 North 15th St
Billings, MT  59101
Statewide Services Available 


Yellowstone Residents recycle for FREE!

  • All electronics accepted
  • Consumer & Business drop-off
  • Collection event expertise
  • Data destruction available
  • Recycling Fees Apply
  • Open:Weds-Saturday,
    10:00 am - 5:00 PM

406 Recycling

Helena, MT 


Please note: this list is not exhaustive, but includes commonly recycled items.

  • Personal Devices (cell phones, tablets, iPods, etc.)
  • Computers and Computer Accessories (keyboards, printers, modems, towers, etc.)
  • Entertainment Equipment (televisions, radios, speakers, etc.)
  • Misc. Electronics (fax machines, scanners, etc.)
  • Televisions and Monitors, including older style Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) units and rear projection screens


  • Collection service
  • Drop-off
  • Collection events
  • Statewide shipping


Fees may apply. Most items are accepted for free. Exceptions include CRT televisions and monitors ($1/inch diagonal), LCD screens larger than 36″ or large rear projection televisions ($15/per), some batteries, and data items requiring data destruction receipts (prices vary based on medium and volume).

Pacific Steel & Recycling
Locations statewide:


  • All electronics accepted
  • SOME Recycling Fees Apply
  • FREE recycling for most items
  • Data destruction available
  • Open: Monday-Friday
    8 am to 5 pm


Gallatin County-Logan Landfill
Directions: Take I-90 to Logan, Exit at Logan (Exit 283), take the south frontage road and head east, follow the signs to the County landfill (the road ends at the landfill)
  • All electronics accepted
  • Consumer & Business Drop-off
  • Recycling Fees Apply:
  • Minimum Fee: $5 to drop off electronics
  • Maximum Fee is $27/ton for large amounts
  • Open: Monday-Saturday,
    7:30 am to 4:30 pm
Republic Services
3207 West Broadway
Missoula, MT

8:00 am - 4:30 pm

  • Consumer & business drop-off
  • All electronics accepted
  • Recycling Fees Apply
Palmer Electric Technology Energy Services (P.E.T.E.S.)
2407 Havre Ave
Missoula MT 59801
Tel: 406-543-3086
Fax: 406-543-3093
  • Consumer & business drop-off
  • All electronics accepted
  • Recycling Fees Apply
Valley Electrical Contracting, Inc.
2820-A Latimor Street
Missoula, MT  59808
406-541-4445 Fax
  • Recycles lamps and ballasts
  • Recycling Fees Apply

Retail Drop-off Programs

You're in luck if one of these retailers is located near you.  This is a convenient, year-round method of recycling scrap electronics. Call and get the details before arriving - just to make sure your equipment qualifies and you know any fees involved.

Retailer Details
Best Buy Certain limitations apply.
Costco Rebate and Recycling Program Recycling not available everywhere
Staples Recycling Program FREE recycling (no televisions)


Donate your unwanted but working equipment to a charitable organization. The National Cristina Foundation is a national organization that provides computers to needy individuals. List unwanted but working equipment on a free, online materials-exchange service, such as Craigslist or Freecycle.

Try to Sell It

Online sites exist just for buying and selling unwanted electronics. Sell my Cellphone and are two such sites that allow users to list unwanted items after answering a few questions about their condition.   Other shopping sites, such as E-bay, may also be of assistance in determining any value remaining for your unwanted electronic.


Spent batteries do tend to multiply. They wind up as the scourge of many a junk drawer, rolling around in that no-man's land where we put everything we just can't bear to throw away.

It is important to keep batteries out of your garbage. Household alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt, and 6-volt) contain corrosive potassium hydroxide, which poses a long-term problem for landfills. Corrosives in landfills can contribute to the degradation of the cell linings intended to prevent landfill contents from leaking into the soil and groundwater. Not long ago alkaline batteries contained mercury. Thankfully, that is no longer a concern. The corrosive properties of batteries are the main problem today.

Unfortunately, there is no local option for recycling alkaline batteries. Alkaline batteries can be safely discarded in the trash in small quantities. To avoid the proliferation of batteries in your trash, consider rechargeable batteries.

Rechargeable household batteries, including nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd), nickel metal hydride (Ni-Mh), and lithium ion (Li) batteries are bad news in landfills because they contain heavy metals such as cadmium. These heavy metals combine with water and organic solvents to produce a toxic leachate that can leak out of landfills and threaten groundwater. But rechargeables are still the best alternative since they are reusable so many times and at the end of their lives they are more easily recycled than disposable alkaline batteries.

Rechargeables are an investment (you need to buy a recharger as well as the batteries), but over time you recoup the costs. And, you put a stop to that junk drawer battery breeding problem.

Rechargeable batteries of all types and any non-alkaline batteries such as button batteries can be safely disposed of through any Radio Shack or Home Depot.

Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, Target, Best Buy, Sears and Home Depot are all part of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation. These retailers accept all rechargeable batteries and cell phones for recycling.

Recycling Alkaline Batteries

There are no local or state programs for recycling alkaline batteries. However, your business, household or local recycling center can participate in these Fee-for-Service programs:

  • Batteries Plus
    Stores located in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. All offer recycling. 
  • Best Buy
    Stores located in Billings, Missoula, and Kalispell. All offer recycling. A "home-haul" service is offered for large electronic items, such as TVs and appliances.
    Grainger offers battery recycling and other services as well as selling a wide range of facilities management equipment. 
  • Battery Solutions, Inc.
    This company offers alkaline battery recycling services to households, government agencies and businesses. Visit the website to find out how to take advantage of services, or call 1-800-852-8127.
  • The 'Big Green Box' Program (1-877-461-2345)
    Purchase postage-paid boxes to collect both alkaline batteries, rechargeable batteries and other items for recycling.
  • Air Cycle Corporation
    Recycles lamps, batteries, ballasts and electronics.
    (800) 909-9709
  • Easypak Recycling Made Easy Mail-in recycling with EasyPak prepaid recycling containers.  EasyPak lets users recycle fluorescent lamps, CFLs, ballasts, batteries and electronic waste while keeping track of their progress online (888-640-6700). 


Destroying Data

This information is provided for your convenience and does not constitute an endorsement of any product.This information is excerpted from the EPA publication Do the PC Thing for Consumers.

If you decide to clean your computer yourself, you can purchase software via the following commercial sites, or obtain them for free at shareware sites:

Commercial Windows Disk Cleaning Software

Freeware Windows Disk Cleaning Software (the following are available at

Macintosh Disk Cleaning Software

Is Data Really Gone?

Deleting something from your computer or email is similar to removing a card from the library’s card catalog but not removing the book from the shelf—the information is still in the library if you look for it. In the case of a computer hard drive, the file’s location information is removed from the drive’s index, but not from its place on the drive, so the file can easily be recovered by someone using sophisticated data recovery software.

Leaving Data Cleansing to the Pros

If you would rather leave the data cleansing to a professional, ask your refurbisher if they have a process to cleanse data from computers. Many of these companies use reputable disk cleaning software following U.S. Department of Defense guidelines. This software systematically overwrites all data and then verifies that this was done. Make sure that you have a good understanding of how the company will be addressing your concerns about data security if you will not be address­ing this issue yourself. You may even want to go so far as to ask your refurbisher for a written statement indicating the specific method the company will use to cleanse the data from your computer.

Take Back

Check back often – electronics recycling is becoming more available all the time and we try to keep this page updated with current programs.

Manufacturers and retailers describe their recycling activities on their websites. The best way to know if a manufacturer offers recycling is to contact them directly. Some will charge a processing fee, and some restrict the brands that they will accept.

Check out MRM to find out which manufacturers are creating a free take-back network across the U.S.


Free or Fee-Based

Apple Inc. Trade-in program
Canon USA Take-back recycling program
Epson America, Inc. $10 fee, includes coupon back for $5
Costco Rebate and Recycling Program Recycling not available everywhere
Dell Inc. Recycling Free Online: Dell Inc.
 Gateway Free drop-off at all Staples™ Stores
Partnership with Staples™
Trade-In Program:


Just print a free shipping label.

HP (Hewlett-Packard Company) - Includes Compaq Shipping charges apply for HP Hardware
Free shipping for Printer Cartridges or FREE DROP-OFF at all Staples Stores Partnership with Staples™
Lexmark Recycling Program Shipping charges apply.
LG, Zenith & Goldstar brands Announcement coming soon (will be FREE)
Panasonic FREE!
Samsung Trade - In program, also free recycling with new Samsung purchase
Sharp FREE!
Sony Announcement coming soon (will be FREE)
Staples Recycling Program $10 per unit charge (unit = tower + monitor); All Dell products are FREE!
Toshiba Free Drop-off of Toshiba brands

Online Trade-In or FREE Shipping of non-value equipment - ANY BRAND! Just print a  free shipping label.

To learn about purchasing computers which are manufactured with reduced hazardous materials and increased ease of recycling, visit the EPEAT website.


The sheer volume of obsolete or unwanted electronics entering the municipal solid waste stream, and the sometimes-hazardous components of the products, has prompted national attention in reusing and recycling these products.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 1999 Report on Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:

"The rapid growth of consumer electronic sales over the last 15 years, and the relatively short life of these products, has led to their increasing numbers in the waste stream.  Management of these wastes is a concern to those governmental officials responsible for the safe handling of solid waste.  Additionally, electronics contain valuable components that can be reused and materials that can be recycled.  … In 1984, less than 150 million units were shipped.  The number of units shipped increased to more than 400 million by 1999."

Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) produce the images seen on computer monitors, video gaming machines, and televisions.  CRTs contain an average of four pounds of lead each that is necessary to protect consumers from harmful radiation emitted by the electron gun in the CRT.  (Hazardous Waste Consultant Magazine, Volume 19, Issue 6, 2001.)  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing regulations to promote recycling of this lead as a hazardous waste and to encourage the diversion of CRTs from the nation's landfills.

Cadmium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, and brominated flame-retardant materials may also be found in electronic products.  Normal use of electronic products does not usually put users at risk of harm from these components, but solid waste management professionals are interested in keeping these items out of landfills and preventing any potential harm to groundwater resources.

Montana does not have any legislation requiring electronic equipment to be recycled or banning electronics from landfills.  Due to Montana's distance from most markets for recyclables, it may not be in Montana's best interests to ban materials from landfills until reliable markets have been established for those materials.

Consumers wishing to explore environmentally responsible ways of disposing of electronics can learn of some options available to them on the following websites:

Encourage more solutions!

Can’t find a solution that meets your needs? Consider writing to the manufacturer or retailer and explaining your situation. Encourage them to develop recycling solutions that meet the needs of rural populations.

KEEP SECURITY IN MIND – although most recyclers will provide assurance that your personal data is destroyed, don’t take a chance. Be responsible for protecting your identity and your assets – use this FREE SOFTWARE to cleanse your hard drive(s):

Erase Your Hard Drive

More options for data destruction (including for MAC systems).

Best online source for ALL recycling information and locations:
Earth 911

Special Wastes

The Real Question

How to recycle CFL bulbs in Montana

7 Steps To Starting a Fluorescent Lamp Collection Program

Your real question is: Which is worse, to use an incandescent bulb, which indirectly spreads mercury by using electricity, or to use a fluorescent bulb, which directly spreads mercury when we throw it away?

The short answer: continuing use of the wasteful incandescent bulbs is much worse. The long answer factors in using low mercury bulbs, safe disposal of the bulbs, and other technologies.

Several manufacturers now offer low mercury content bulbs. Philips' ALTO bulbs offer mercury content only 13 to 25 percent of typical fluorescent bulbs. This reduction was achieved with no sacrifice in longevity or performance.

Other manufacturers of low mercury fluorescent bulbs:

Common Objections

Sustainability issues aside, some common complaints continue to arise regarding CFL bulbs.

Color: Many people feel the light cast by a CFL bulb is ugly. Casting a yellow and blue tint, fluorescent bulbs are responsible for that icky appearance of your face in truck stop bathroom mirrors. Most CFL bulbs are color corrected to now compensate for this and special color bulbs are available. Mixing and matching bulbs from different manufacturers can also create color issues. This presents a challenge if you are slowly upgrading the bulbs one-at-a-time as they burn out.

Dimming: Many people complain CFL bulbs cannot be dimmed, preventing millions of people from setting a romantic mood. Greenlite now sells a color-corrected and dimmable CFL bulb.

Cost: Despite the obvious energy savings and long life of the CFL bulb, many people still feel they are too expensive. In reality, you are losing money for every incandescent bulb you do not replace with a CFL.

Theft: Lastly, building owners, hotel operators and office managers complain about people stealing the CFL bulbs right out of the fixtures. There is no easy way around this, and it is a real issue. Hey, these bulbs are popular!

Disposal Issues

While offering tremendous environmental advantages through energy savings, the disposal of used fluorescent lighting raises some serious environmental concerns.

Several states now regulate the disposal of mercury-containing lamps. The store where you purchased the bulbs should be able to help you recycle burnt out bulbs.

If not, the bulbs can be disposed of through local household hazardous waste collection programs.

Household users are typically exempt from these special disposal requirements. Regardless of the rules, never throw a CFL bulb away into the trash. Recycling opportunities are available in many towns and cities, either at local recycling centers or transfer stations. Contact your local waste disposal officials for details.

How to recycle CFL bulbs in Montana

Walk-in Programs:

Home Depot and Lowe's 

Both Home Depot and Lowe's now offer free CFL recycling for consumers. Take expired, unbroken bulbs to the Service desk for free recycling.

Palmer Electric Technology Energy Services: P.E.T.E.S. Palmer Electric was the first business located in Montana to offer recycling of fluorescent lamps. P.E.T.E.S. accepts spent lamps from businesses and residents for a small fee, and sees that they are recycled professionally.

Valley Electrical Contracting, Inc.
2820-A Latimor Street
Missoula MT, 59808
(406) 541-4444

Mail-in Programs:

Veolia Environmental Services is a resource for information on recycling spent CFL bulbs. Mail-in recycling with EasyPak prepaid recycling containers (business & consumer recycling). Waste recycled: Fluorescent lamps, CFLs, batteries, ballasts, and electronic waste. Phone: 800-909-9709; Email:

Think Green From Home: Waste Management's mail-in recycling program for homeowners. Prepaid shipping containers for the safe collection and shipping of fluorescent tubes, batteries, and other mercury containing objects for recycling.

Everlights: Mail-in recycling with Evermail recycling containers. Waste recycled: Fluorescent lamps, CFLs, batteries, ballasts, and electronic waste. Phone 773-734-9873 or toll-free 877-934-9873.

Business Equipment and Recycling Options:

Air Cycle Corporation - sells reclamation equipment

Lamp Recyclers of Montana
This business is mobile, bringing lamp crushing services to your business.

Lamp Recyclers Universal Waste
List of companies that handle business-generated Universal Waste. Although there are out-of-state addresses, there are companies that do "milk runs" through Montana to pick up lamps for recycling from diverse businesses.

Other Sources of Mercury in Buildings

Fluorescent lamps are not the only mercury-containing products we use. A number of building systems contain it. Switches and thermostats in heating and cooling systems; measurement devices, valves, and flow switches in systems that move, store, meter, or regulate liquids; and fire suppression and security systems-often incorporate mercury.

For many of these, mercury-free alternatives are available, generally with no additional cost.

Alternatives to Fluorescent Bulbs

Mercury-free fluorescent lamps are available using xenon; however, their efficiency is about 30 percent of that of a mercury-based fluorescent lamp. The energy consumed would ultimately produce more mercury that simply sticking with a low-mercury fluorescent.

Ceramic metal halide (CMH) offers an energy efficient alternative to those people obsessed with the color of the light from the bulbs. While not as efficient at a CFL, it might be a good choice for color critical, commercial applications.

A light-emitting diode (LED) is a tiny semiconductor that emits light. It looks like a small bulb, but contains no filament. Because of their size and low output, dozens of these LEDs are arranged to create enough light.

Although LED's are twice as energy efficient as incandescent bulbs, they are still not as high as fluorescents. LEDs have an incredibly long life, some 30,000 to 50,000 hours. Currently, the costs are still to high for many uses.

As LED technology increases in energy efficiency and decreases in cost, you will see LED bulbs become very commonplace. It is important to note LEDs are the only non-incandescent light source that does not rely on mercury vapor.


Ironically, CFLs present an opportunity to prevent mercury from entering our air, where it most affects our health. The highest source of mercury in our air comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal, the largest source (54 percent) of electricity in the United States.

A CFL uses 75 percent less energy than an incandescent light bulb and lasts at least ten times longer. A power plant will emit 10mg of mercury to produce the electricity to run an incandescent bulb compared to only 2.4mg of mercury to run a CFL for the same time.

Safe disposal, combined with purchase of low mercury bulbs makes continued use of compact fluorescents a very wise choice.

Remember, saving energy prevents pollution. When you use less energy at home, you lessen greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. Every CFL can prevent more than 450 pounds of emissions from a power plant over its lifetime.

More Information

Fluoresent Lamps and Compact Fluoresent Lamps

(mercury-containing, energy-efficient light bulbs)

Commercial Lamp Disposal Fact Sheet

How to recycle CFL bulbs in Montana

What if I break one?

About Mercury

High energy costs have driven consumer and business interest in compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). CFLs are highly energy efficient and can save about $30 in electricity costs over the lifetime of the bulb (and they last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs). Utility companies, state and local government officials and private businesses work together to increase consumer awareness and acceptance of these lights as a great way to conserve energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global climate change.

The small amount of mercury contained in CFLs is a necessary component which contributes to the energy efficiency of the lights. Industry continues to reduce the amount of mercury used in CFLs, and is expected to reduce the average amount below the 5 milligrams currently used. Aware of the dangers of mercury pollution, many consumers and businesses wonder if purchasing mercury-containing devices is a good idea. In the case of CFLs, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions reduced through energy efficiency make a strong case for replacing incandescent lights with CFLs.

Reducing mercury pollution is important for protecting public health and our environment, and CFLs should be recycled at the end of their life. Recycling programs for CFLs are just now getting attention nationally and more companies are offering solutions. However, few community recycling opportunities exist for consumers. The links below provide information on proper disposal of CFLs and recycling programs, as well as energy conservation information.

Disposing of Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs)

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) should not be thrown away with normal trash when recycling options are available. They should be treated as you would treat batteries. This is because they contain trace amounts of mercury. The amount in them isn't large enough to pose users a hazard, but it does become a concern at landfills, where the mercury from many bulbs could leak into the ground.

The recommended course of disposal varies depending on where you live, so consumers are advised to ask the local authorities. Sometimes stores that sell CFLs will accept back used CFLs to recycle them correctly.

It is interesting to note that coal power plants are the single largest source of mercury emissions into the environment. A coal power plant burning enough fuel to power an incandescent light bulb instead of a CFL would release more mercury into the air than is actually contained in a CFL itself.

Keep checking back to find more places recycling CFLs, we expect to add more locations over the next year.


  • Lowes
  • Home Depot
  • Batteries Plus Bulbs



If no options exist for recycling CFLs in your area, you can dispose of spent bulbs through your trash service only after placing the bulbs in a sealed plastic bag.


Montana generates a little less than one million waste tires each year. 

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle logo

Tires are considered a “component part” of a motor vehicle. Waste tires are those that cannot be used for their original intended purpose and are discarded. Waste tires are a Group III solid waste and are not classified as hazardous waste. Tire disposal is governed by the Solid Waste Management Act, (75-10-201, MCA), and associated Administrative Rules of Montana, (Title 17, Chapter 50, Sub-parts 4 & 5).

Waste tires are not easily disposed of and can accumulate quickly. Problems can occur when tires are stockpiled.

Special solid waste management programs are often created in some states to deal with waste tires because of these two issues and problems that occur when tires are stockpiled. Many states have made it a priority to clean up abandoned tire stockpiles, employing creative ways to use or recycle waste tires. Some states have banned tires from landfill disposal and therefore must have well-established markets for waste tires or risk more abandoned tires. Still other states have established fees on tire sales to create special funds to eliminate abandoned tire stockpiles or fund recycling efforts.

The 1997 Montana Legislature passed a law establishing financial assurance requirements for new waste tire recycling or disposal facilities (MCA 75-10-216). Legislators in that session also directed the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) to conduct a study to determine whether a comprehensive policy regarding waste tire management was needed.

The Environmental Quality Council's 1998 study found that "At this time, Montana does not have a problem with waste tire management which is significant enough to warrant statewide policy changes in the current situation." (Status of and Alternatives for the Management of Waste Tires in Montana: Report to the 56th Legislature; 1998.)

The study recognized that there were potential problems associated with waste tire management, that Montana's problems were not severe enough for policy changes, and that the issue required continued attention. The study went on to recommend the state "…continue to support agency efforts to assist in the development and analysis of alternative waste tire management solutions…"

What did study participants consider?

Recognizing the potential for problems managing Montana's waste tires, participants evaluated several proactive policy changes, such as banning tires from landfills, creating a special waste tire management fund or establishing additional regulations.

The study looked at the number of waste tires generated, the number landfilled, the amount of illegal dumping, and whether waste tire haulers should be regulated.

Specific conditions that exist in Montana made it difficult for study participants to justify unilateral policy changes in waste tire management practices.

  • Montana generates less than one million waste tires annually over a large geographic area. This inhibits the economic feasibility of many waste tire management options available to other states, including attracting tire processors and recyclers. These businesses must locate enough waste tires within a geographically economic area to be viable.
  • Landfills within Montana, in general, have sufficient capacity and the authority necessary to address problems.
  • Illegal tire dumps exist but are manageable and can be effectively dealt with under current law.
  • DEQ is responsible for providing assistance to emerging markets for waste materials.

Ultimately, the study participants agreed that "…existing and future market competition for properly managing waste tires should be sufficient to address the [tire] problem in the long run." In other words, the EQC expected that natural market forces should continue to be sufficient to meet Montana's needs. DEQ is mandated to assist in the development of markets for waste materials by the Integrated Waste Management Act, which also mandates a decrease in the amount of waste landfilled.

Market interest in waste tire management in Montana is driven more by environmental interests or energy interests rather than population. Montana's low population density and small number of waste tires creates a special niche that needs to be filled. The small number of waste tires may minimize the severity of management problems, but it also increases the difficulty of offering programs such as recycling, use in civil engineering projects, and similar management practices utilized in other states.

Montana's Waste Tires

drawing of tires

Tires are generally split into three categories: New, Used, or Waste (scrap) tires. Used tires are those tires that were used for their original purpose and still have useful life left - either to be reused as they are, or to be retread and sold again. Waste or scrap tires are those tires that can no longer be used for their original purpose and are not appropriate for retreading. They must be disposed of or recycled.

Where are all the waste tires?

Montana has 3 monofill landfill sites that accept only tires. In 1997, nearly 51% of the waste tires reported to DEQ were disposed of in these monofills. The remaining tires were either disposed of in Class II landfills along with other solid waste materials, sold to be retread, reused in another capacity (e.g. tire bales), or recycled into new products (a small percentage).

Montana has one resource recovery facility dealing exclusively with tires that also operates a monofill (tire only landfill). The business owners are interested in recycling more tires than they landfill and actively work to expand their products and clientele.

Unlike other states, Montana does not have a severe problem with waste tire piles. A few tire piles are scattered across the state and they generally contain fewer than 500 tires. Because tires accumulate quickly, they can pose real management problems for salvage yard operators and tire collection and recycling businesses. In addition, Montana law prohibits waste tire piles from being visible to the public - they must remain out-of-sight behind man-made or natural structures. Some businesses face enforcement and compliance fines when tires accumulate too quickly for the business owner to properly dispose of or find new uses for the waste tires.

Are waste tires imported into Montana?

Yes, some monofill landfill operations seek business from other states, such as Idaho, Washington and Wyoming. They operate pick up and hauling services to businesses in those states and bring the waste tires back to Montana for landfilling or recycling. Other businesses, on which DEQ does not have information, may import waste tires.

Waste tires can be landfilled in Montana, but is this the most desirable disposal option?

The information presented in this website is not intended to answer the question posed above, but rather offers information to inform you about this method of waste tire management.

Are tires landfilled in Montana?

Yes, Montana does not ban tires from landfills or require that tires be cut up before disposal. Economics result in the majority of Montana's waste tires being disposed of in landfills. Long travel distances to waste tire markets means landfilling is usually less expensive than alternatives.

Most landfill operators are not required to keep specific records tracking tire disposal, however many voluntarily share some tire disposal data on annual questionnaires sent out by DEQ. The state has four monofill landfill sites that accept only tires. In 1997, about half of the state’s waste tires reported to DEQ were disposed of in monofills. The remaining tires were disposed of in Class II landfills, sold for retread, reused in another capacity, or recycled into other products. Montana law prohibits waste tire piles from being visible to the public.

Enviro Tire (Hot Springs, Sanders County), The Rasmussen Tire site near Kalispell, Tires for Reclamation near Silesia (Billings), and The Tire Depot near Polson are privately operated Class III monofills (tires only) and these operators are required to keep records of tires buried or recycled.

The 1998 Environmental Quality Council's 'Status of and Alternatives for the Management of Waste Tires in Montana: Report to the 56th Legislature', reported that three monofill sites operating at the time accounted for a total of 174,497 or nearly 51 percent of the waste tires reported to the DEQ as having been disposed of or recycled in 1997.

It is difficult to obtain absolute numbers on the amount of tires disposed of, or to know with certainty what happens to waste tires generated in Montana each year for several reasons:

  1. Lack of reporting. Only Class III tire monofills are required by law to track and report the number of tires accepted for disposal. Class 2 sites voluntarily provide the numbers and because tires often arrive at the facilities in mixed loads of unseparated waste, those numbers may not be comprehensive.
  2. Exemptions. If the property is larger than five acres, landowners and agricultural operations can dispose of waste on their own lands. (Must be in accordance with the exemption in Section 75-10-214, MCA.)
  3. Illegal disposal. Tires get illegally dumped in random locations.  In some instances, individuals may collect fees for hauling waste tires and then abandon them in illegal and unlicensed tire piles. DEQ has identified a handful of illegal tire dumps, with most containing a few hundred tires each. One such illegal dump contains several thousand tires and another abandoned tire site contains at least several hundred thousand tires. The owners of these piles are identified and given an opportunity to either bury the tires or otherwise eliminate the pile before enforcement actions are initiated. Montana has been lucky compared to many states with significant numbers of abandoned tire piles containing thousands or even millions of tires.

The Environmental Quality Council's 'Status of and Alternatives for the Management of Waste Tires in Montana: Report to the 56th Legislature (1998)'  includes a very good discussion regarding tires and landfill disposal in Montana. To learn more about this method of waste tire management, please click on the link above to see the entire report.

Do landfills regulate tire disposal?

Individual landfills retain the authority to decide on the types and conditions of wastes accepted as long as compliance with state issued permits and approved operation plans are maintained. Some landfills have requirements for cutting tires into 2-4 pieces before acceptance. The Flathead County Solid Waste District is the only landfill that has banned tires. Most of Flathead County's tires now get disposed of in nearby monofills. (Monofills are landfills that only accept and bury tires.)

Do some states ban tires from landfills? Why?

The increased value of space within existing landfills and the tendency over time for tires to rise to the surface have contributed to 35 states banning whole tires from landfills. Other states require cutting, chipping, or grinding of tires prior to disposal, or take steps to reduce the number of tires being landfilled.

Tires by their nature are problematic for landfill operators because they cannot be efficiently compacted in normal landfill operations. The structural "memory" of tires is strong and they successfully resist most efforts to compact them with other garbage. The cubic yards occupied per pound are less than the average landfill density normally realized. The hollow space within a tire is a void and due to their resiliency tires migrate or "float" to the top of landfills, thereby impacting the integrity of landfill operations and creating more costs.

Should we consider keeping tires out of landfills?

In 1991, Montana set a goal of reducing the solid waste volumes disposed of in landfills or incinerated by 25 percent (Montana Integrated Waste Management Act, MCA 75-10-801). Keeping tires out of landfills can help reach this goal.

For some solid waste managers, avoiding the problems with tire disposal and saving landfill space are reason enough to support pursuing alternative management options. Other solid waste managers consider the broader benefits associated with alternative management options such as reuse, recycling, and energy recovery.


  • Saving natural resources. Reuse keeps tires out of the "throw-away" waste stream for which most products seem to be designed. Recycling reduces the amount of virgin materials needed for the next rubber product.
  • Reducing costs. In some cases, keeping waste tires out of landfills keeps operating costs down.
  • Maximizes their value. Producing tires requires a great deal of energy and resources (including fossil fuels). Reuse, recycling or energy recovery practices all reclaim part of that investment.
  • Saving landfill space allows more space to be available for items that have served their purpose and really can't be disposed of any other way. This is less of a priority for Montana.


What to do with Tires?

The links below answer questions and provide information on how we can reuse and recycle waste tires.

Can we reuse or recycle old tires?

Yes. Four alternative management methods may be utilized for disposing of waste tires: Reuse, Recycling, Pyrolysis, or Energy Recovery. Energy Recovery is discussed separately.

Reuse is the practice of giving a second life to a product, either using it again for the same purpose or using it for a different purpose. Reuse practices are different than recycling because no further processing is required.

Examples of tire reuse:

  • Baling whole tires for use in bridge or roadbed construction;
  • Using on docks or pilings as boat bumpers;
  • Retreading tires for resale; and,
  • Constructing lightweight tire-filled concrete blocks for retaining walls (or similar use).

The examples given above involve whole tires. In general, reuse practices do not involve significant processing, as is required in the recycling of materials. Not all proposed methods of reuse are lawful in Montana. For example, tires may not be used for riprap because this would violate Montana's Water Quality Act.

Recycling is the practice of processing waste products back into raw materials and then manufacturing the materials into a new product. The recycling of tires generally involves cutting the tires into smaller pieces, including grinding to create ground rubber.

Examples of tire recycling:

  • Using crumb rubber to form new products such as rubberized asphalt, mats, and playground surfaces.
  • Cutting, stamping or punching new products out of scrap tire rubber.
  • Tire chips are used as daily landfill cover, fill in sewage drainage fields, and civil engineering projects, and as fuel.

For more information on markets and uses for waste tires, visit the EPA website on tires.

Waste tires and the Montana Motor Vehicle Recycling Act

Tires are considered to be "component parts" of a motor vehicle. Tire piles must be shielded from public view. This is why tires cannot be used as fences or building exteriors. If tires are used in alternative building construction, they must be covered with another material, such as stucco.

Does tire recycling occur in Montana? Yes, some tire recycling does occur in Montana, yet the majority of waste tires are landfilled. At this point, Montana has one resource recovery facility dealing exclusively with tires. That business operates a monofill for tires; offers tire chips for sewage drain fields, backfill material, and other products; and actively pursues other recycling opportunities. Another business makes livestock feeders from waste tires. Several businesses retread truck tires only; there is not a business retreading passenger tires in the state. For a list of these businesses and others that offer recycled products, see the Montana Guide for Buying Recycled Products.

There are no reporting requirements for recycling activities in the state and therefore other businesses could exist, but DEQ is not aware of them. Any business that stores tires, however, must comply with state laws and rules regarding their storage.


Pyrolysis is a process that uses thermal degradation in an oxygen-free environment to decompose the tire rubber into three recoverable materials: carbon black, oil, and gas. It is also known as gasification or liquefaction. The gas produced is normally then used to provide the energy to drive the pyrolysis. The oil can be used as a low-grade fuel oil. Tire manufacturers generally use a large percentage of carbon black in new tires, but pyrolysis produces a low quality carbon black that does not meet most manufacturers' expectations. There are no pyrolysis processors in Montana.

Could more recycling occur? Yes, if more recycling businesses operated in geographically diverse locations within Montana, thereby reducing costs associated with transporting waste tires to markets. But would enough waste tires be generated in that geographic location to keep the business solvent?

Challenges to Waste Tire Industries in Montana

Waste tire businesses in Montana face challenges to their success that reflect many of the reasons why recycling is hard to accomplish in Montana. Some of the factors that negatively affect the growth of waste tire industries in Montana are:

  1. Long transportation distances
  2. Low population densities
  3. Lack of in-state markets
  4. Unreliable supply conditions (due to less costly disposal options, such as landfills)
  5. High start-up capital investment costs

These same challenges often inhibit the growth and success of recycling programs and businesses across the state for many recyclable materials, including glass and plastic.

Why aren't tires recycled into new tires? Manufacturing tires involves vulcanization, a chemical process that treats rubber with sulfur to make the rubber stronger, more elastic and resistant to temperature changes. Vulcanization is also an irreversible process that prevents the true recycling of tires because the rubber cannot be melted down into virgin material again for reuse in a new tire.

Even separating tires into their basic components is a difficult and expensive process that yields materials with little value. A very small percentage of powdered scrap tire rubber has been used successfully as filler in the manufacture of new tires. Research continues to be done to increase the percentage of scrap that can be used without jeopardizing the integrity of the tire. (See the Rubber Manufacturers Association's online publication for more information about waste tire recycling markets.)

Construction and demolition

(C&D) debris consists of the waste generated during construction, renovation, and demolition projects. Waste is generated every time a building, road, or bridge is constructed, remodeled, or demolished. C&D waste often contains bulky, heavy materials, including concrete, wood, asphalt, gypsum, metals, bricks and plastics.C&D debris also includes salvaged building components such as doors, windows, and plumbing fixtures. The majority of C&D waste (approximately 92 percent) comes from building demolition and renovation, and the remainder comes from new construction.

There are multiple factors to be aware of before, during, and after C&D:


Commercial Recycling for Construction

Mercury — The EPA has created a fact sheet called Before You Tear it Down, Get the Mercury Out. This collection of information concerns demolition processes and Mercury. It can be very useful when renovating or when demolition plans are ahead of you to ensure that you will be safe and free of potential mercury exposure.

Reclaiming Old Wood — There are a number of businesses in Montana that use wood from C&D for recycling and repurposing. 

Where to Recycle

This article, A Building Renewed: At The Factory, dental tool maker recycled into condominiums, from the Missoulian gives an example of how construction and demolition materials can be used in new projects.


Medicines should not be flushed down the toilet at the end of their use. This includes both over-the-counter and prescription medicine, including supplements. Place it in household garbage, taking care to disguise it in order to discourage illegal scavenging.

Efforts are underway to create a take-back program which is supported by pharmaceutical companies, retailers and pharmacies. A Guidance Brochure is available.

Montana is a member of the Product Stewardship Institute, an organization that promotes product stewardship principles by creating stakeholder groups to develop solutions to address specific products.

      click here for brochure 

Safe Needle Disposal

This is guidance to households on the disposal of waste pharmaceuticals generated at home, including unwanted or unused prescription and non-prescription medications.  This does not address the requirements for doctor offices, medical clinics, veterinary clinics, hospitals or care facilities.

The old recommendation of flushing pharmaceuticals down the toilet is the least desirable alternative for the disposal of unwanted or unused medications. Wastewater treatment plants and septic systems are not designed to treat pharmaceutical waste. 

Recent research has demonstrated that pharmaceuticals exist in the environment as a result of improper disposal of unused medicines and because they are excreted by the person using the medicines.     

Don’t flush your waste medications!   





Permanent Prescription Drug Drop Locations:  

Operation Medicine Cabinet Montana has many locations where permanent drop boxes are located across the state. This link has a chart of the locations:

What cannot go in bins?

  • Used Sharps (hypodermic needles, syringes, auto injectors, infusion sets, connection needles/sets, and lancets)
  • Dietary Supplements, Vitamins
  • Business Waste (e.g., Company Representatives' Product Samples, Waste from Clinics, Doctors, Dentists, and Veterinary practices)
  • Mercury Thermostats
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Chemotherapy or cytotoxic medicines
  • Compressed Gas Cylinders or Aerosol Containers (e.g., asthma inhalers)

Mail Back:

Some pharmacies and other organizations offer postage-paid envelopes for a small fee, which you can use to mail medicines to a safe disposal program. Mail back systems accept controlled and non-controlled substances.

Household Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal Guidance brochure

If a drug take-back or collection program is not available:

- Take your prescription drugs out of original containers.

- Conceal or remove any personal information from the original medicine container, including the prescription number, by covering the label, using a black permanent marker or removing it.

-  Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used cat litter or used coffee grounds.

-  Put mixture into a disposable container or plastic bag.

-  Place sealed contents in the trash.

Department of Environmental Quality's Solid Waste Program (406) 444-5300

Department of Justice's Operation Medicine Cabinet (406) 444-2469


Occurs naturally in air, water and soil, and is present in diverse consumer products, such as thermometers, thermostats, and vehicle switches. It is important to carefully manage these products at end-of-life to prevent release of mercury into the environment, and to protect human health. In addition, other human activities contribute to elevated levels of some mercury compounds, such as methylmercury. Methylmercury accumulates up the food chain, and in some cases, fish consumption advisories are issued to protect human health.

The EPA has created a fact sheet called: Before You Tear it Down, Get the Mercury Out This collection of information concerns demolition processes and Mercury. It can be very useful when renovating or demolition plans are ahead of you to ensure that you will be safe and free of potential Mercury exposure.

End-Of-Life Management


Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) 


Thermostat Collection Programs

Vehicle Switches

Fish Consumption Advisories

Guidelines for eating fish from some Montana lakes and rivers

USDA Advisory for Seafood Consumption

EPA Mercury Home

Mercury Information Hub - Peaks to Prairies Pollution Prevention Information Center

More information

Unless newer models have been installed, many homes have older thermostats which contain mercury. If remodeling or replacing thermostats, do not throw them in the garbage. Recycle them instead by contacting the Thermostat Recycling Corporation at 1-888-266-0550 or:

Low-Income Weatherization Contractors

The Montana State University Extension Service provides weatherization training for contractors working with the Montana Low-Income Weatherization program. The Extension Service also trains weatherization experts on safe management of mercury-containing thermostats, and provides mercury collection buckets and spill kits. When weatherization crews remove a mercury-bulb thermostat, the thermostat is replaced with a non-mercury type and the collected thermostats are returned to the Extension Service for recycling.

Basic Information about Mercury from the State of Alaska

Basic Information about Mercury in CFLs from the EPA


Mercury-Containing Thermostat Disposal

So you are ready to replace your current thermostat for an energy star programmable model – have you thought about the proper disposal of the old one?

Many thermostats used to control the room temperature in your home contain mercury. To identify, remove the front plate and you will see one or more small glass bulbs, known as tilt switches, which contain mercury. Each tilt switch contains roughly three grams of mercury, though some may hold as much as six grams. Mercury is very toxic and can leak out of a discarded thermostat to contaminate our air, water and soil. Consequently these old thermostats should never be disposed of in the trash or local landfill.

Montana passed the "Mercury-Added Thermostat Recycling Act (75-10-1504 MCA) to require wholesalers to take-back  thermostats and reduce the amount of household hazardous waste disposed of in landfills.  The Act also forbids future sales of mercury-containing thermostats.  Contractors, landfills, retailers and others can participate in the program as well.

The "Thermostat Recycling Corporation" is an industry-funded program which actually collects and recycles the mercury from thermostats.  A one-time fee of $25 covers the cost of a container for thermostats and free shipping for recycling.  The program provides a replacement container at no further cost. Visit their website to find locations accepting thermostats for recycling, or to register to participate in the program. 

Thermostat Collection Program made possible by:

For more information, contact the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Business and Community Assistance Program at 1-800-433-8773.


Rebate available for installing programmable thermostats in gas-heated homes!  See NorthWestern Energy's website: Programmable Thermostat Rebate