Question: What items are considered household hazardous waste (HHW)?
Answer: Leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients are considered to be HHW. Items including paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides contain potentially hazardous ingredients and require special care when it's time for their disposal.
As a country, Americans generate 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste per year. These figures translate to as much as one hundred pounds of hazardous waste per household, stored in garages as well as in and around the home.
What are some improper methods of household waste disposal? Pouring them down the drain, on the ground, into storm sewers, or in some cases putting them out with the trash can lead to environmental contamination and pose a threat to human health.
It may seem obvious, but hazardous products should be kept in their original containers with labels intact. Household hazardous waste should never be mixed with any other products. In some situations, incompatible products can react, ignite or even explode.
When in doubt, it is best to refer to local environmental, health, solid waste or other appropriate government agency for instructions on proper disposal of HHW. Many communities now offer HHW drop-off programs and collection days. The following are some tips for recycling specific materials.
From drugstores to big box stores, Americans purchase nearly 3 billion dry-cell batteries every year to power radios, toys, cellular phones, watches, laptop computers, and portable power tools. Then there are wet-cell batteries, used to power automobiles, boats and motorcycles.
Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, all of which are environmental contaminants.
One way to reduce the number of batteries in the waste stream is through the purchase of rechargeable batteries. Each rechargeable battery may substitute for hundreds of single-use batteries. Rechargeable batteries are also easy to recycle.
What about cleaning products?
Most antibacterial cleaners, air fresheners, dishwasher detergents, oven cleaners, carpet cleaners and toilet/sink/tub/tile cleaners contain toxic ingredients that can seep into groundwater. Not only are most cleaning products bad for the environment, they can be bad for your respiratory health too. To minimize their negative effects, it is best to dispose of any unused products at a local HHW site. A better solution may be to buy or make your own greener cleaners. Regular soap is negligibly less effective than antibiotic soap in killing germs and not nearly as bad for the environment. Scrubbing toilets, sinks and tubs with vinegar or lemon juice and baking soda works well. Baking soda and water is also a safe and effective way to clean your oven or carpet.
Recent press reports have shown that trace amounts of prescription and over-the-counter durgs are showing up in our drinking water. The cause is the expired contents of our medicine cabinets being thrown away or flushed down the drain. An alternate disposal method is checking to see what local pharmacy will take back unused or expired drugs.
Compact florescent lamps (CFL) have become popular because of their energy efficiency. While newer CFLs contain lower mercury levels than older lamps, the amount is still too high to simply place bulbs in the trash. Home Depot has a CFL recycling program that allows the return of any unbroken bulbs for free recycling. The recycling of old electronics, also known as e-waste, can be disposed of at many Target, RadioShack, Best Buy, the Home Depot and Lowe's stores. eCycling is important because most components contain lead, which can contaminate groundwater and become a health hazard.
Because it is illegal to throw away paint or paint thinner in many states, this material should be taken to an HHW site. It may also be possible to donate usable paint to a local paint store to be remixed or sent to a Habitat for Humanity location.