One thing that most homes have in common is the accumulation of household hazardous waste – you’re bound to have cans of old paint, old batteries, tins of gasoline, and other such items in your home that are simply not possible to throw away with your regular household trash.
Normally, the reason why these types of wastes accumulate in your home is that disposing of them is not that straightforward. You may not be entirely sure whether you need to call a hazardous waste collection company or, in another scenario, you may not be fully aware if some of these are recyclable or reusable.
So, what’s the best method of disposing of household hazardous waste? When do you need to drop off at a hazardous waste collection site? Can you just leave these at the curb? When do you recycle? We answer these questions by providing 14 practical methods in properly disposing of your household hazardous waste.
Quick Definition of Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)
The term “hazardous waste” refers to any waste that poses any major or possible threats to public health or the local environment and therefore, requires special care during its disposal.
According to the EPA, HHW must show one or more of the following features:
This refers to the corrosive characteristics of substances found in certain household wastes. Common items found in your home that are corrosive are any industrial-strength cleaners that contain strong acids such as hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid. Car batteries which are usually lead batteries, also contain sulfuric acid which makes them corrosive.
This refers to the flammable characteristic of substances found in certain household wastes. Common items found in homes that are combustible or ignitable are gasoline, oxidizers, and propane tanks.
Any wastes that are potentially combustible when mixed together with other substances or exposed to extreme temperatures are considered reactive. A common example is filled or partially-filled aerosol cans that, when exposed to high temperatures, may cause an explosion.
Any wastes that contain toxic materials that when inhaled or consumed can have serious, or potentially deadly, health consequences. If exposed to any toxic materials, you are to call for medical aid immediately.
Examples of common HHW found in homes include:
One of the best ways to determine if a product is hazardous and requires special disposal methods is to check the label. If it has any of the common hazardous waste symbols like “flammable”, “toxic” or “gas under pressure” then extra care must be taken during its disposal.
Now that you have a general idea of what hazardous waste is, now we can talk about how and what you need to know about its disposal. But before we delve into the specifics, here’s one important tip that you must first remember:
Research your county’s specific waste management laws.
Each county has different sets of waste disposal regulations that are either governed at a state or federal level. All of these laws must be adhered to so that you can avoid hefty fines, penalties, or other legal sanctions.
So, asking a family member who lives in another county (or an entirely different state, for that matter) for advice on how to dispose of latex paint, for example, isn’t recommended because their local waste disposal laws may differ from yours. Their local laws may allow them to just include latex paint in their trash bin or leave it at the curb for pick up but yours might not.
We recommend for you to do a quick search for your area specifically by doing any of the following:
14 Methods for Household Hazardous Waste Disposal
Method 1: Dispose of your household hazardous waste in regular garbage if allowed by your local laws.
The caveat is there are certain situations when this is allowed and some situations where this isn’t. For example, while aerosol sprays are considered hazardous wastes, many areas typically allow people to toss empty cans into the garbage.
However, If you want to empty the aerosol can before throwing it away, you should take this step very carefully. There are specific steps and regulations for recycling aerosol cans. You can find them here.
One key issue about whether HHW can be tossed in with your household trash is how much you have. For example, if you have several smoke detectors, then tossing numerous units of ionizing smoke detectors into the garbage can be dangerous to human health.
Method 2: Looking to dispose of asbestos? Get the help of waste management contractors ASAP.
In situations like asbestos, the removal of the substance could itself be dangerous. This helps to explain why many hazardous waste collection centers don’t accept such items. It’s better to contact an asbestos contractor since they’ll have the know-how to remove the asbestos product then dispose of it properly.
Other than asbestos removal, there are few situations where a contractor is required to go on the field to remove household hazardous waste from private residences.
But if you do have large quantities of unknown or expired chemicals in your home that require removal, always ensure that you contact professionals for safety and compliance. You can request a free household hazardous waste removal quote from ACTenviro here.
Method 3: Where, possible - RECYCLE!
This method is part of the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. When you recycle hazardous waste like smartphone batteries and other electronics parts, this can benefit the Earth’s environment since handset makers can reuse them for new smartphones, tablets, and fitness trackers.
Meanwhile, used car oil can also be saved and recycled. While 75% of the USA’s waste could be recycled, less than one-third actually goes through this process, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Batteries are one of the most popular items to recycle. This includes ones like lead-acid batteries. In fact, it’s very important to dispose of these batteries and others because state laws sometimes require them to be recycled or taken to a hazardous waste facility.
Did you also know that you can also recycle chemicals like mercury? It’s important to make sure you store mercury carefully in an air-tight container. Some common examples include mercury thermostats.
Various states even offer free recycling of electronics waste. It’s important to visit your state’s homepage about this issue to learn more.
Finally, another issue is where you take HHW to be recycled. The easiest way to find out is to go online. Here are 2 suggestions:
Method 4: If you can - REUSE!
This isn’t technically a way to dispose of HHW but is an alternative and more eco-friendly option since it reduces the carbon footprint. For example, one option is to reuse solvents with paint thinners. You can do this by closing the container fully then letting the paint settle to the container’s bottom. You can then reuse the solvent on the top. Next, let the sludge dry out then discard it.
Another simple way to reuse components of hazardous waste is to reuse the containers it comes in. For example, completely dried-out paint cans can be repainted to reuse as “pots” for plants.
Method 5: Share or donate your waste.
This is an effective way to prevent wastes like paint, fertilizers, auto oil, or acids/bases. If you have extra amounts of these substances, then consider giving them away to people who can use them.
Common suggestions include:
Method 6: Diluting instead of disposing
This method should be done carefully and should be done following specific guidelines. When followed correctly, dilution is a great way to “expand” the usage of your hazardous waste by either diluting them with the same material or diluting with water while safely storing the excess for future use.
Common HHW items that can be diluted are:
If you live in an area with colder climates, use a higher percentage of antifreeze to protect against extremely low temperatures e.g. 70% antifreeze to 30% distilled water in a one-gallon container.
Method 7: Check the schedule for your local Traveling Wastemobile
As the name suggests, this mobile HHW collection service travels to different regions in a city, town, or county. The main benefit is the collection vehicle goes to residents instead of them traveling to collection sites, for example.
Wastemobiles maintain different operating schedules. Some travel around the city during the same few days of the week, while others operate nearly every day except national holidays like New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
Wastemobiles typically accept many of the same items as HHW collection centers including:
Meanwhile, items that aren’t accepted typically include:
To find updated Wastemobile schedules, just head over to your county’s website or search Google: “Wastemobile schedule (your county)”
Method 8: Check and see what your local station accepts.
Gas stations can sometimes accept multiple types of automotive waste like brake fluid, transmission fluid, and diesel fuel. However, when taking your auto waste to such facilities, make sure you don’t mix the products with motor oil since this could cause a dangerous situation.
Method 9: If possible, store HHW for later use or disposal.
This involves simply holding on to various hazardous waste until it can be disposed of or used later. For example, let’s say your home has some extra mothballs. These items are toxic /flammable, so you should definitely use them up if you can.
If it’s time to dispose of them, simply store the mothballs in a safe place until a local HHW program can collect them through drop-off centers, collection events, etc.
Another great HHW item to store for later use is paint. Paints are tricky to dispose of as various areas often have different paint disposal regulations. However, as long as it’s stored and sealed properly, paint can last up to 10 years. Keeping them about is handy for touch-ups and DIY projects.
You may also not think of used cooking oil as a type of HHW but it actually is. When disposed of improperly, these can clog sewers and storm drains and can cause disastrous consequences. Simply storing them for future use (even if it’s just a few days) or using it as material for making soap or mixing used vegetable oil in compost are great ways to give “new life” to HHW and help the environment, as well.
Method 10: Check and see if your local pharmacy has a designated drop box for used sharps.
Sharps are classified hazardous and are usually categorized under Regulated Medical Waste but these aren’t just generated by hospitals. Some households also generate waste sharps especially if there is someone in the home that requires medical care like insulin shots or other types of medication.
Several drug stores contain disposal boxes where it’s safe to deposit used syringes. Other drop boxes may be found at doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, hospitals, etc. These are sometimes free but sometimes, fees may apply.
Caution: Always make sure you’re knowledgeable about the sharps disposal laws in your local area before disposal or drop off. Special, puncture-resistant containers are needed for storage before these can be deposited or disposed of. The US FDA provides the correct outlines for the correct storage and disposal of sharps/needles here.
Method 11: Know how to properly dispose of unused medication.
For unused prescription drugs, you should always head over to designated drop-off centers for disposal. Never flush them down the toilet or toss them into the garbage can. The US FDA outlines the correct disposal of unused medicines here.
Method 12: If allowed, directly drop off your HHW at your local landfill.
You can sometimes drop off HHW at municipal landfills operated by your town, city, or county. Make sure to find out what hazardous waste materials are acceptable/unacceptable.
Landfills are often connected with in-house collection centers for HHW, e-waste, business waste, etc. Recycling centers are another kind of collection site that is often available at landfills.
When possible, you should try to prevent waste from ending up in landfills. If the landfill isn’t managed properly, the waste can seep into the soil and then into the groundwater. You can minimize how much waste ends up in landfills by taking steps like recycling.
Method 13: Drop Off Your HHW At Designated Household Hazardous Waste Collection Sites
This is a general method of hazardous waste disposal. There are various methods, including drop-off days during the week, collection events, and Wastemobile pick-ups.
A local city, town, or county can provide information regarding this HHW-processing method. Sometimes municipal landfills operate HHW collection sites that accept various HHW, including fluorescent light bulbs, oil-based paints, electronics waste (e-waste), etc.
When dropping off HHW at collection sites, it’s important to follow particular guidelines the center has set including:
Look for specific guidelines by having a look at your local area’s official website. It should have the information you need.
Method 14: Use it all up!
This last method is simple – it’s about using the item yourself instead of sharing it with friends or family. There are various products you can apply this process to like personal care products.
Furthermore, there are also different ways you can consume leftover substances. For example, if you have some leftover paint, you could use it up on small projects. This will eliminate the amount of hazardous waste you produce.
When an item is all used up and the container’s empty – it’s usually a lot easier to dispose of, in the first place.
Quick tips to help you use up all items that contain hazardous materials in your home include:
There’s no question that hazardous waste has become worldwide public health and environmental issue. So it’s critical to always determine issues like what you’re disposing of, how much of it you’re disposing of, and how to store, treat, and transport the substances.
In most situations, the best method of disposing of household hazardous waste is an HHW collection facility. They have the knowledge, experience, and equipment to make sure it’s disposed of properly. On the other hand, sometimes there are better alternatives such as recycling, donating, or simply using up the product.
When in doubt, contact ACTenviro. Our expert team is knowledgeable about the intricacies of hazardous waste disposal. Get in touch with us today.