The Torah forbids discarding holy objects by throwing them into the trash. Some objects always have kedusha and must be placed in shaimos. Other objects gain kedusha once they are used for a mitzvah and need to be treated with special care.
Objects which have innate holiness, kedusha, are shaimos. This means that, when discarded, they must be wrapped in plastic and buried. The following objects are included in this category:
1. A Sefer Torah.
2. Sefer Torah covers.
3. Tefillin, tefillin bags, mezuzos, and mezuzah covers.
4. Siddurim and bentchers.
5. Seforim, whether handwritten, printed, photocopied or downloaded and printed (e.g., chumashim, siddurim, machzorim, seforim, Gemara, Shulchan Aruch, etc.).
6. A quote from tanach, chazal, Rishonim or Achronim, that has been printed or written with the intention of explaining Torah, or to teach us how to conduct ourselves according to hashkafos haTorah.
7. Invitations from organizations and individuals that contain parts of pesukim are shaimos. However, if the words of the posuk are merely being quoted in order to make the sentence sound more eloquent and not to convey Torah they are not shaimos. This type of usage of a posuk is called a melitzah. For example, the sentence “Kol Sason Ve’kol Simcha”, as frequently included in wedding invitations, is a melitzah and is not shaimos.*
8. Three consecutive words of a posuk from tanach that have been written in one line, with the intention of quoting tanach (as opposed to a melitzah, which is not shaimos).*
9. Any paper or material on which is written one of the names of HaShem. However, the Hebrew letters IY”H (Im Yirtzeh Hashem), BE”H (B’ezras Hashem), and B”H (Baruch Hashem) may be discarded according to halacha and Jewish custom, although it is considered an act of piety to tear off those letters and put them into shaimos. The Hebrew letters BS”D (B’siyata D’shmaya) may definitely be put into the trash.*
10. Pages of a sefer that became detached, or parts of the pages of a sefer, even if there is no writing or print on them.
11. A sefer’s cover, when removed, should be placed into shaimos.
12. Binding tape that became detached from a sefer.
13. Parsha papers, test papers, limudei kodesh homework and notes are shaimos if they fall into any of the above categories.
14. Letters or printed material in English of any other non-Hebrew language are shaimos if they conform to the above stipulations. However, letters or printed material in the Hebrew language are not shaimos if they do not conform with one of these specifications.
OBJECTS THAT WERE USED FOR A MITZVAH
Objects which have been used for a mitzvah, although they have no kedusha (innate holiness) may not be thrown directly into the garbage. One may burn them or wrap them in plastic and then place them into the garbage. The following objects are included in this category:
The following objects have no kedusha and can be discarded. These items do not need to be wrapped:
NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES AND TAPES
Newspapers and magazines which contain secular information should not be put into shaimos as they degrade the real shaimos that are buried with them, especially if the advertisements and pictures are not within the spirit of the Torah. The pages that do contain Torah may be removed and placed into shaimos if the other side of that page also contains Torah or is blank. Alternatively, the whole paper may be put into a bag which should then be put into another bag so that the paper is double wrapped, known as kli besoch kli. It can then be placed into the garbage or into recycling. Missionary material that contains pesukim may be burnt or double wrapped and discarded.
Tapes and CD’s containing divrei Torah and shiurim may be disposed of after they have been double wrapped in plastic.
*In the above cases, the shaimos or divrei Torah may be cut away from the paper and buried if so desired.