Hazardous Waste Disposal

What is Hazardous Waste

Household hazardous waste (HHW) is a broad category and can include very common everyday items such as old light bulbs or leftover paint. They can also be unwanted cleaning products or from a home improvement project. The EPA classifies some household products as hazardous based on their risk of catching fire, exploding, or corrosive and toxic properties. They set this classification to hold these products to a higher standard for disposal, in hopes that they are handled safely and to avoid environmental damage as much as possible.

Lots of residences and companies have waste that needs to be thrown away that falls under the classification of “hazardous waste“. Much of this waste is also very common items that you may use in your home or business. Some examples would be fluorescent bulbs and cleaning chemicals. Fortunately, there are numerous facilities and locations that one can take these items where they can be safely gotten discarded. Several recycling facilities accept a significant amount of these items, while some material can only be dropped off at specialized hazardous waste facilities in your county.

Why is Household Hazardous Waste Disposal so Important?

Hazardous waste disposal must be handled properly; it is critical that items classified as hazardous waste do not make it into the regular waste systems. HHW (Household Hazardous Waste) products often contain dangerous chemicals that need to be handled carefully to minimize their exposure to the natural environment. Cadmium, mercury, and lead are just a few of the toxic chemicals that are often found in household hazardous waste; these chemicals pose a health risk to both humans and animal life. The dangerous chemicals in HHW can contaminate drinking water and pollute our bays and oceans.

If that is not reason enough to be responsible when disposing of household hazardous waste, remember that it is also the law. Since 1976 when the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act passed, there have been specific rules and standards for storing, handling, and disposing of household hazardous wastes. There is a good reason for there to be actual laws in place regarding these materials. There is also general safety to consider, for those who must handle our garbage and recyclable materials, there may be a risk for explosions or fires if these products are just tossed in with regular trash or recyclables.

What is Considered Hazardous Waste?

Some very common household items are categorized as household hazardous waste, including fluorescent bulbs and old leftover paint. This isn’t a complete list, but some of the most common.

Household Hazardous Waste List:

  • herbicides
  • pesticides
  • antifreeze
  • motor oil
  • drain cleaner
  • batteries
  • pool chemicals
  • oven cleaners
  • old propane tanks
  • paints
  • prescription drugs
  • stains and polishes
  • toilet cleaner
  • lighter fluid
  • aerosol cans that are not empty: aerosol cans labeled TOXIC or FLAMMABLE may not be put in the trash if they are not completely empty.
  • Electronic devices: TVs, computer monitors, computers, printers, VCRs, cell phones, telephones, radios and microwave ovens often contain heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, PCBs, and cadmium

Items That Contain Mercury

  • Fluorescent tubes and bulbs and mercury containing lamps:
    They contain mercury vapor, a toxic metal.
  • Thermostats: There is mercury inside the sealed glass switch in old thermostats.
  • Electrical switches and relays: These contain mercury.
  • Pilot light sensors: These often contain mercury.
  • Mercury gauges: These include barometers, manometers, blood pressure and vacuum gauges.
  • Novelties with mercury added: This includes greeting cards that play music when opened, old athletic shoes with flashing lights in the sole, and mercury maze games.
  • Mercury thermometers: These typically contain about a half-gram of mercury

This is not a comprehensive list but does contain many of the common items that are disposed of at homes and businesses. It is important that we all do our part to keep these items out of landfills and not throw them into the regular trash bins.

What are the 4 Types of Household Hazardous Waste?

The EPA breaks Household Hazardous Wastes down by four categorizations:

  1. Ignitability or something highly flammable
  2. Corrosivity, causing decomposition
  3. Reactivity or something explosive
  4. Toxicity or poisonous

Where to Dispose of Household Hazardous Waste

Proper disposal of household hazardous waste is critical for safety and the environment. In most areas, there are a couple of options for responsible adequate disposal of HHW.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection Programs

Household Hazardous waste collection programs exist in most incorporated areas. These are programs set up through the city or county and in coordination with a professional waste management system. You will need to check within your specific city or county for dates and locations for HHW programs. Some municipalities offer both permanent and temporary locations. You can do a quick search for Household Hazardous Waste facilities with the name of your county to see if a permanent site is available in your area.

Household Hazardous Waste Events

If your area does not have a permanent specific drop off location a HHW event is likely coming up, most areas offer them several times throughout the year, in convenient locations like large shopping centers or city hall. Check your city’s website, or you may even need to give them a call to see when their next event is scheduled. Household Hazardous Waste drop off makes it very easy to get all that waste out of your garage or home responsibly. Keep a tub with items that qualify as household hazardous waste, make sure it is out of reach of any small children, then take it to the next Household hazardous waste drop off near you.

Hazardous Waste Drop Off Near Me

If the Household hazardous waste is solid, such as batteries or fluorescent bulbs, there is usually another option through large retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Usually, these solid items are also accepted at city programs. Still, liquid household hazardous waste is not suitable for drop off at these locations and must be taken to a Household Hazardous waste site or a HHW event. Batteries are considered household hazardous waste and should not be placed in the regular curbside trash or recycling bins. Local retailers have begun providing easy drop off bins near the entrances of their stores to encourage proper disposal and recycling of these items. Motor oil is often accepted anywhere that performs oil changes, but call ahead to make sure.

What Happens to Household Hazardous Waste?

Some HHW is recyclable, there is an acronym “ABOP” which stands for antifreeze, batteries, oil, and paint, these along with oil filters and even aerosol cans can be suitable for recycling. Paint is usually separated by waste or usable, and some communities also have areas to “shop” through discarded leftover paint and stains that are still usable. 

The remaining HHW that is not recycled or reused is usually incinerated in a careful process that significantly limits the release of pollutants into the air. Facilities that handle this process are under guidelines set by the EPA, and the process usually involves “scrubbers” that collect emissions at the incinerator smokestack. 

How to Reduce Household Hazardous Waste?

The first step in reducing your household hazardous waste is stopping or reducing the amount that enters your home in the first place. Think of the different categories and then use alternatives to the standard toxic, chemical-laden choices.

Pesticides and herbicides are often overused, and many natural alternatives are safe for the environment and your family. Phase these products out of your regular housework routine and try some of the many alternatives.

Household Cleaners are another area that natural alternatives can be used and often work even better than unhealthy chemical-laden choices. It is usually a lot less expensive, as well. Vinegar, citrus, cleaners made with essential oils are often less costly to make and work just as well. 

Switching paint to water-based paint will help you reduce your household hazardous waste as well. Using longer-lasting bulbs and recycling CFLs when they have burned out will also help to curb the amount of waste you are creating. 

Household Hazardous Waste Recycling

Remember that some everyday household hazardous waste items can and should be recycled. Unused paint and stains can be donated and useful to others. CFL bulbs are recyclable as well as many types of batteries. These can be dropped off at local retail stores usually. Some types of hazardous waste common to our homes can be reused, or portions of it reclaimed. HHW facilities will salvage what they can to minimize the amount that enters our landfills or must be burned off.

Hazardous Waste Disposal Near Me

With a clear understanding of what is and what is not considered Household Hazardous waste and knowledge of the dangers they create, every one of us should be responsible for the disposal of our own home’s hazardous waste. We can reduce the amount of hazardous waste we are creating by choosing safer alternatives, and keep it out of our landfills and our water and air. Be sure to make the effort to locate a drop off location or event in your area, maybe even go a step further and offer to take in your neighbors HHW as well.