Hazardous household wastes from A to Z

hazardous household wastes

The idea of hazardous wastes scares some people, yet we all have hazardous substances in our homes. These include electronic waste, paints, motor oil, pesticides, some cleaning products, and batteries. Oh, and prescription drugs and sharps for giving injections. I have a list of them later. When we want to discard them, we must treat as hazardous household wastes. 

Hazardous products are substances that can catch fire or explode, react with other substances, or that are toxic or corrosive. When you dispose of them, you can’t just put them in the trash or pour them down the drain. 

Consider bleach and ammonia. A mixture of the two makes a deadly gas. 

Now imagine that you put a not quite empty container of bleach in the trash. Your next door neighbor puts a not quite empty container of ammonia in the trash. They get dumped together in the garbage truck, which compacts its contents from time to time. If both those containers rupture and the chemicals mix, it could kill someone. 

In general, improper disposal of hazardous household wastes can injure sanitation workers and pollute sewage treatment plants and sceptic tanks. Improper storage while they’re still in your home can injure people and pets in the household, including visitors. 

A list of hazardous household wastes

I hope no one considers my title misleading just because I don’t have anything on this list that begins with X, Y, or Z. I have tried to be as comprehensive as possible. On the other hand, I can’t claim it’s exhaustive. Some hazardous household wastes may have escaped my attention completely.

  • Aerosols
  • Air fresheners with volatile organic compounds ( including formaldehyde, isobutane, naphthalene, and benzene)
  • Antifreeze
  • Asbestos
  • Auto batteries
  • Batteries (alkaline, rechargeable, button, etc.)
  • Cleaning supplies (with ammonia, bleach, or other toxic ingredients)
  • Diesel fuel
  • Drain cleaners
  • Drugs (prescription and over the counter)
  • Dyes
  • Electronic waste  
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Fluorescent lightbulbs (including CFLs)
  • Furniture polish
  • Garden chemicals fertilizer, pesticides (including herbicides fungicides, and rodenticides)
  • Gas cylinders
  • Herbicides and fungicides
  • Insect repellant
  • Insecticides
  • Lighter fluid
  • Medical wastes
  • Motor oil and filters
  • Nail polish remover
  • Oven cleaner
  • Paint and paint thinner
  • Photographs
  • Silver polish and other metal cleaners (two entries in NCDEQ)
  • Smoke detectors
  • Solvents
  • Spot remover
  • Swimming pool chemicals
  • Thermometers and thermostats that contain mercury
  • Tires
  • Toilet cleaner
  • Transmission fluid
  • Wood preservatives

Did you notice photographs on the list? Both film and photo paper probably contain silver and possibly other heavy metals. If you ever want to get rid of any, the metal content creates an environmental hazard. 

Safe handling of  hazardous household wastes

Hazardous household waste drop-off
Hazardous household waste drop-off,
Department of Environmental Protection,
Montgomery County, MD via Flickr [link no longer works]

With many things on the list, the best thing to do with them is to use them up. For example, you can leave the lid of an empty paint can. When it dries, you can put the can in the trash. The same with your cleaning supplies and garden chemicals. 

Otherwise, you need to know how to discard everything safely. And that depends on where you live. 

Communities differ in management  options for hazardous household wastes. Some have year-round facilities open at regular hours. Others designate a few days a year for accepting them. Some have no capability of collecting them at all. Know your local conditions. If your community doesn’t collect such wastes, you need to check Earth911.com to find out what other options you have. 

Some local businesses may accept certain products. For example, do you change the oil in your car yourself? Shame on you if you pour the used oil in the sewer, whether by flushing it down the toilet or pouring it in a storm drain. But you can’t just put it in regular trash, either. Take it to your mechanic, who has the equipment for proper disposal.

Some stores may accept other items, such as printer cartridges or batteries. 

Here are some general safety practices:

  • Know which products you have are hazardous.
  • Read and follow all directions on product labels carefully. Careful handling minimizes the risk of trouble.
  • Keep all hazardous chemicals in the original containers. Never remove labels. If you notice a corroding container, call your local hazardous materials office for instructions on what to do with it. 
  • Make sure one product never mixes with another unless the manufacturers intend them to be mixed. Paint and paint thinner, for example, are both hazardous materials that are safe to mix. 

An ounce of prevention . . .

The best way to deal with hazardous household wastes is not to  buy hazardous materials in the first place. 

For example, you don’t need to buy a drain cleaner. Use a plunger or plumber’s snake to clear clogged drains. To prevent clogs in the first place, dissolve a cup of baking soda in hot water and pour it in the drain. Then follow it with vinegar. 

The fizzing means they’re neutralizing each other. Recipes for household cleaners that combine these two ingredients don’t work. Period. But confined in the drain, the fizzing action dissolves gunk that can build up to clog it. 

Look also for non-toxic alternatives for glass cleaners, furniture polish, oven cleaners, rug deodorizers, silver polish, mothballs, rodent poisons, spot removers, and so on. In some cases, at least, they’re easy to find.

Shop related products:

20 Mule Team Borax, 4 pounds

SnugPad Wool Dryer Balls XL Size 6 Pack, Natural Fabric Softener

Safer 51703 Diatomaceous Earth-Bed Bug Flea, Ant, Crawling Insect Killer 4 lb

Household hazardous waste / North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
Household hazardous waste (HHW) / US Environmental Protection Agency
Recycling hazardous waste / Ecolife

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