By Kendra Landon Juskus
Flourish, Fall 2011
The dead batteries you just removed from that flashlight. The nail polish color you’re over. The old oil from your car’s engine. Those cans of paint with just a little bit left at the bottom.
I know that most items like this, containing heavy metals and toxic chemicals that it just doesn’t seem right to pour down the drain or send to the landfill, pile up in my basement and my garage and the corners of my office because I don’t know what to do with them.
So I set out on some research, asking questions like, “What can’t I put in the trash?” “What will happen if I do put something hazardous in the trash?” and “Where in the world can I take my hazardous waste?”
Here are the answers I found.
Hazards in the Home
Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) is the term for items we throw away that contain volatile compounds that are
Disposing of hazardous materials improperly means that the chemicals, heavy metals, and toxins they contain may come back to haunt you in unanticipated ways.
radioactive, toxic, corrosive, reactive, or ignitable. When these products are disposed of improperly (thrown in the trash, down the drain, or into the street), they can poison the environment (polluting local water sources, soil, and air) and people who may come in contact with them, like garbage collectors who are not dressed to safely handle hazardous materials.
What Not to Dump
But you thought those folks at the landfill take care of everything? Not so. Throwing all of your household waste into the trash or down the drain is no panacea for ridding your life of all that you don’t want around. In fact, disposing of hazardous materials improperly means that the chemicals, heavy metals, and toxins they contain may come back to haunt you in unanticipated ways. To avoid being revisited by dangerous substances that leach from your local landfill back into the water you drink and the dirt you garden in, here’s a list of what shouldn’t go in the kitchen trash:
- Latex and oil-based paints
- Paint thinners and strippers
- Grease and rust solvents
- Wood and metal cleaners
- Nail polish and removers
- Household polishes and cleaners
- Oven cleaners
- Drain openers
- Lighter fluids
- Fungicides and wood preservatives
- Insecticides, herbicides, and rat poisons
- Used oil and oil filters
- Fuel injection and carburetor cleaners
- Broken thermometers
- CFL bulbs
- Ink cartridges
Help with Hazardous Waste
Don’t panic! That list is long, and as I read it I cringe over all the hazardous materials I’ve been throwing in the trash can for years. Fortunately, it’s getting easier and easier to safely dispose of—and even recycle!—these substances. Companies,
governments, and non-profits are creating easy avenues for ordinary folks to get rid of some out-of-the-ordinary stuff:
- Local collections – Most municipalities host several hazardous waste collections each year. Many also have permanent locations where your HHW will be taken off your hands in a safe manner. Call your local government, fire department, or solid waste agency to learn when and where you can dispose of your HHW.
- Businesses – Many stores that sell products containing toxins and heavy metals will accept those products for recycling when you’re done with them. They do this through a partnership called Call2Recycle. Participating retailers include: Home Depot, Verizon, Office Depot, RadioShack, and Staples. Local hardware stores may receive items such as batteries, old CFLs, and propane tanks. Whole Foods stores will also accept some small HHW, like batteries. Garages will usually accept used motor oil and oil filters. Ask your favorite local retailer if they will take your HHW items for recycling or proper disposal.
- Organizations – Non-profit organizations that prioritize recycling everything from crayons to cell phones are popping up all over the country. Many of these organizations also accept some HHW or can direct you to businesses and locations that do. Find organizations like SCARCE, in the Chicago area, by searching online for recycling non- profits in your area or contacting your local government.
- Earth911 – The Web site Earth911 is an invaluable resource for finding HHW disposal or recycling centers. Just plug in your zip code and you’ll find tons of locations that will take your dangerous household substances off your hands. Earth911 also shares lots of easy-to-understand information about what qualifies as HHW and how you can avoid it.
Reducing Household Hazardous Waste
The best way to keep from sending dangerous heavy metals and toxic chemicals into our environment or into the
Companies, governments, and non-profits are creating easy avenues for ordinary folks to get rid of some out-of-the-ordinary stuff.
unwitting hands of children and service workers is to reduce how many of those substances we use in the first place. Here are some tips for reducing your HHW use:
- Use less – Reduce the frequency with which you have to change (and dispose of) your car’s oil by walking and biking more often. Share appliances with friends and family to avoid buying duplicate items that contain or require hazardous materials and substances to function.
- Clean green – For a comprehensive guide to cleaning solutions that will safely replace your hazardous cleaners and still spruce up your house, check out Flourish magazine’s Spring 2011 Toolshed: Spring Clean, Green Clean.
- Use alternatives – If you can find an appliance that doesn’t require batteries or oil, get it! Substitute natural alternatives for drain cleaners, air fresheners, oil-based paints, moth balls, pesticides, and fungicides. Buy non-mercury-containing thermometers or LED light bulbs.
- Avoid what you don’t need – There are some hazardous chemicals we can (and should!) simply avoid, especially the ones we put on our bodies through nail polish and cosmetics. Letting your nails and skin breathe free without chemicals might be the best beauty treatment you can give them!