Quick. What should you do with leftover household hazardous waste like house paint?
- Pour it down your sink and rinse can well.
- Pour it at the curb and flush with hose into nearest storm drain.
- Cover can tightly and throw away with regular trash.
- Dump it in a corner of your yard where rain will wash it away.
- None of the above.
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?
- Reduce. Experts agree the best way to deal with hazardous waste is to generate less. Buy only what you can use. Switch to less toxic alternatives for cleaning, painting and pest control.
- Recycle. The next best thing is to donate, share or recycle leftover materials. Theater groups, for instance, often need paint. Many auto part stores and service stations accept used auto batteries and motor oil.
- Dispose Safely. If disposal is your only option, make sure you do it safely. Store products in original containers with labels, if possible. If the container is corroded, repackage it and label clearly, so there is no accidental poisoning or contamination.
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:
- Pesticides. The suffix cide in common pesticides and herbicides means “kill,” and they do more than just destroy bugs and weeds. These household products are also toxic to humans, animals, aquatic organisms and plants. Follow all label directions carefully. Never use more than needed and never dump unused portions in your yard. Better yet, use more natural alternatives.
- Fertilizers. If the nitrates and phosphates in common fertilizers wind up in our waterways, they act like they do on your lawn: they promote growth. In streams and rivers, they can cause such large algae blooms that the fish are choked out. Try to reduce your fertilizer use and never apply fertilizer before a rainfall, since the rain washes it into the streets and storm drains.
- Motor Oil. Chemicals in the oil are toxic to fish, animals and humans. If you do your own oil changes, do not dump used motor oil down storm drains or on the ground. One quart of spilled motor oil can contaminate a million gallons of water! Check your local service station; many take used motor oil for recycling.
- Household Toxins. Poisonous ingredients are found in hundreds of common household items from spray cleaners to paint thinners to hair dyes. Never pour household hazardous waste items like these on the ground. Your best bet is to replace them with safer alternatives.