Disposing of hazardous household waste can seem daunting, but it’s important to do it properly to avoid harming human health and the environment. Here is a comprehensive guide to identifying, handling, and responsibly disposing of hazardous waste from your home.
Identifying Hazardous Household Waste
The first step is learning how to identify products that are hazardous and require special disposal. Here are some common examples:
- Drain cleaners
- Oven cleaners
- Toilet bowl cleaners
- Bleach cleaners
- Furniture polishes
- Rug and upholstery cleaners
- Motor oil
- Fuel additives
- Car batteries
- Brake fluid
- Car wax with solvents
- Radiator flush
- Transmission fluid
- Weed killers
- Insect killers
- Paint thinners
- Solvent-based glues
- Furniture refinisher
- Artists’ paints and photographic chemicals
Miscellaneous Chemical Products
- Pool chemicals
- Fluorescent light bulbs
- Driveway sealer
- Flea and tick powder
- Rodent poison
- Roofing tar
- Driveway sealer
The key is to look at the label. Words like “warning,” “caustic,” “toxic,” “flammable,” or “poison” indicate a product is hazardous.
Safe Handling of Hazardous Household Waste
Once you’ve identified hazardous waste products in your home, you’ll need to handle them properly to avoid injury or contamination:
Read the label carefully and follow all safety precautions. Wear gloves, mask, and goggles as needed.
Keep products in their original containers, if possible, and make sure labels are legible.
Do not mix chemicals together, as this can cause dangerous chemical reactions.
Pack containers carefully if transporting, especially if they are leaky. Place in sealed plastic bins or bags.
Keep products away from heat sources and open flames.
Store properly to avoid spills, leaks, or access by children/pets. Use secure shelves up high or locked cabinets.
Work in a well-ventilated area and avoid inhaling fumes. Open windows and use fans.
Never pour hazardous waste down drains, storm drains, or toilets or dump on the ground. This pollutes water sources.
If a spill occurs, follow clean-up directions on the label. Wear proper protective gear.
Dispose of hazardous waste as soon as possible once no longer needed. Don’t let it accumulate in your home.
Following these safe handling guidelines reduces the hazards associated with these chemical products.
Locating Hazardous Waste Disposal Facilities
So where should hazardous household waste actually be disposed of? There are several options:
Hazardous Waste Drop-Offs
Many municipal governments organize periodic neighborhood hazardous waste drop-off events where residents can bring their hazardous waste to be disposed of properly.
Drop-offs are often held in centralized locations like parking lots. Dates and locations vary throughout the year.
Drop-off events are advertised through mailers, newspaper/radio announcements, municipal websites/social media, and signage.
Residents simply drive through and volunteers will unload your hazardous waste from your vehicle.
Always follow event instructions carefully regarding what materials are accepted, limits per vehicle, wait times, etc.
Permanent Hazardous Waste Facilities
Some counties also have permanent household hazardous waste disposal facilities you can visit year-round.
These function similar to drop-offs, but are available on a routine schedule – certain days per week/weekend.
Permanent facilities may have more extensive collection capabilities than temporary drop-offs.
Advanced appointments for dropping off waste may be required at some permanent facilities.
Some private businesses like automotive shops, construction companies, and chemical firms are equipped to handle certain types of hazardous waste disposal.
For example, you may be able to dispose of used motor oil, paints, or other chemicals through local businesses for a small fee.
Contact businesses ahead to ask about their hazardous waste services and any associated costs.
Trash and Recycling Centers
Many residential trash and recycling centers have specially designated areas for hazardous waste drop-off.
These are often separate facilities from the general trash and recycling area.
Centers will likely have limits on quantities accepted per visit, so plan accordingly if you have a lot of waste.
Always check with your local center first about their specific hazardous waste guidelines and hours.
Responsible Disposal Methods
Once you’ve brought your hazardous waste to a drop-off event, permanent facility, business, or recycling center, here is what happens next:
Specially designed landfills isolate hazardous waste from people and the environment. The waste is buried deep underground.
Landfills have liner systems and groundwater monitoring to prevent contamination.
A major downside is hazardous waste can remain in landfills indefinitely.
High temperature incinerators completely destroy and decompose waste through burning.
Incineration reduces waste volume and the resulting ash is disposed of in landfills.
Downsides are air pollution concerns, high costs, and toxic ash residue.
Wastewater plants can treat some hazardous waste flushed into sewer systems, like household cleaners.
Treatment involves chemical, biological, and physical processes to remove contaminants.
Not all plants can handle hazardous waste and sewer dumping should be avoided when possible.
Recycling & Recovery
Some hazardous waste like solvents, batteries, and electronics can be recycled.
Useful materials are extracted from the waste through chemical processes and used to manufacture new products.
Recycling is cost-effective and better for the environment long-term compared to disposal.
Proper hazardous waste disposal through these methods reduces risks to the public and prevents environmental damage. Check locally to see which options are available in your area.
Disposing of Special Hazardous Waste Categories
Certain common household hazardous waste requires extra precautions. Here is how to handle them:
Electronic waste like computers, TVs, and cell phones contains heavy metals like lead and mercury.
Donate working electronics if possible so they get reused.
Recycle non-working electronics at designated electronic waste drop-offs or recycling centers.
Do not throw electronics in the trash as the metals can leach into landfills.
Fluorescent bulbs and CFLs contain mercury vapor and should be recycled.
Do not put them in trash bags where bulbs can break and release mercury.
Take bulbs to drop-offs or participating hardware/home improvement stores. They will ship to specialized recyclers.
Prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines need to be disposed of through take-back programs to avoid misuse and contamination.
Do not flush medicines down toilets or drains. This pollutes water supplies.
Check with your pharmacy, health clinic, or police department to locate take-back locations in your area.
Mix medicines with unappealing substances like dirt, cat litter, or coffee grounds in a sealed bag or container to throw away if take-back is not available. Scratch out personal information on labels.
Both single-use and rechargeable batteries contain heavy metals and corrosive materials.
Take to hazardous waste or electronic waste collections. Many retailers also collect batteries for recycling.
Do not throw batteries in the trash where they can leak toxins at landfills.
Used tires contain oils and heavy metals and should not go to landfills.
Many tire retailers accept old tires for recycling when purchasing new ones. Leave with the new tires to be recycled.
Take to waste drop-offs if retailers won’t accept. There are also businesses specifically dedicated to tire recycling.
Refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers contain Freon refrigerant which harms the ozone layer.
Use appliance disposal services offered by retailers, waste management providers, or contractors. Certified technicians will capture and recycle the Freon.
Special waste facilities may also extract Freon before appliances get recycled or landfilled.
Do not dump old appliances or puncture cooling lines yourself.
Disposing of household hazardous waste properly takes a bit more time and effort but is critically important. By identifying hazardous products and safely containing, transporting, and discarding them through approved channels, we keep toxins out of landfills and our water supply. This protects the health of our communities and environment. Utilize hazardous waste collections in your area and advocate for more responsible disposal options. With some diligence, we can reduce the impacts of hazardous waste from our homes.