When you buy a large appliance, most retailers will haul away the old one. ApplianceSmart.com, Best Buy, Sears, and some utilities participate in the EPA's Responsible Appliance Disposal Program, which ensures, among other things, that chemicals are recovered and the metal, plastic, and glass are recycled. Some utilities will even pay you to dispose of an energy-wasting appliance. Find out whether your town or county government offers an appliance-recycling program or locate one on the Steel Recycling Institute's website, at www.recycle-steel.org. To donate appliances large and small in good condition, check with your local Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Salvation Army, Vietnam Veterans of America, or other charity.
Habitat for Humanity runs ReStores in the U.S. and Canada, which sell leftovers from retailers and homeowners. For other options, go to www.earth911.com and type in the item you want to donate.
Try selling unwanted furniture on Craigslist or eBay. Early spring and back-to-school are the hot seasons, though you'll need to market skillfully. "No photo is the most common mistake," says Martin Herbst, general manager of eBay Classifieds U.S. "Bad photo is the second most common." Shoot for decent lighting and spare styling.
Charities accept furniture if it's in decent shape—no broken parts or big rips or stains. The Salvation Army and some Goodwill programs provide pickup service, usually within 48 hours, and tax receipts. Or try Freecycle.org, a members site where you can give and get goods free.
If the furniture is shot, ask your trash collector about curbside pickup. Haul it to the curb a day early and put a "free" sign on it, in case someone might want it. 1-800-Got-Junk, a hauler, charges $100 and up for a couch. Bagster, at www.thebagster.com, charges $29.95 plus a $79 to $159 collection fee for a 3-cubic-yard bag.
Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores accept towels, sheets, curtains, and such. To donate well-worn towels, call your local animal shelter. Often they take them to use for pet bedding and/or for cleanup rags.
They are the stuff of landfill nightmares. If you're buying a new mattress, the retailer may take away the old one, but try to find out what happens to it. Some retailers dismantle the mattress and recycle its components. If not, the mattress goes to the dump. If it's in good condition, offer it to shelters for the homeless or battered women, or the Salvation Army. Otherwise, look for a local recycler online or by searching at www.earth911.com; you'll probably have to pay a fee. Hauling the mattress to the curb for regular trash pickup is a last resort, but be sure to check with your sanitation department. Some communities require mattresses to be wrapped in heavy plastic and sturdy tape to seal in any bugs.
Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift shops and similar outlets often take used tools. Check yours or go to www.earth911.com, a national clearinghouse for all types or recycling, for details in your area.