Quick. What should you do with leftover household hazardous waste like house paint?
Congratulations if you picked number 5. The same answer would be true for motor oil, common household cleansers, bug sprays, antifreeze and dozens of other household items. They might seem like ordinary items, but they contain toxic chemicals and fall into a category of garbage called household hazardous waste.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average home has up to 100 pounds of household hazardous waste, or HHW as it is known, a huge amount when you realize that just a quart of spilled motor oil dumped at a curb can contaminate up to a million gallons of water!
Large businesses and industrial plants are highly regulated when it comes to hazardous waste. They must separate and dispose of toxic products differently than regular trash.
Now, more and more municipalities across the country are urging homeowners to also separate and dispose of toxic products differently than regular trash. The EPA warns that if some types of HHW are thrown in the regular trash, it can severely injure sanitation workers, cause a fire or even explode.
If you pour household hazardous waste down a drain or toilet, it can contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems that can't handle the chemicals. Flushing it into a storm drain is no better because storm drains lead directly into our streams, lakes and other waterways. Dumping it into your yard is a double whammy. Rainwater eventually washes some into storm drains and the rest seeps deeper into the ground where there may be important aquifers, or drinking water sources.
So what should you do when you clean out your garage or basement and want to throw away extra gasoline, fertilizer, varnish or other household hazardous waste?
Household hazardous waste must be properely disposed of. Numerous collection programs have been set up across the country. Some towns or counties hold special collection days, others have permanent hazardous waste collection facilities. Call your local public works department or county or state solid waste officials to find out what type of hazardous waste collection is offered in your area.
Here is a list of some very common household hazardous waste products along with disposal advice: