Today, however, the problem of household hazardous waste has become more acute due to the artificially enhanced power of the chemical reactions roiling in our refuse. Dig through our garbage, and you discover myriad toxins, corrosives, flammables and combustibles mixing candidly with viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa.
Now you understand why we’re taking some time to talk about household hazardous waste disposal: the stuff is seriously nasty.
Safe methods of recycling hazardous waste reduce environmental pollution and its associated health hazards. Determining the proper procedure for disposal of household hazardous waste is, however, no easy task.
Remember, we are dealing with potentially or currently toxic material, some of which could explode or burst into flames. We can’t just toss such material into the regular trash; it should not be drained into the street or out in a field or down your sinks or flushed down the toilet, either. You can’t burn it, unless you are suicidal. Burying just covers it up.
What can we do with household hazardous waste?
The first step we should all take is to do some research. Determine the location of the nearest hazardous waste collection site. Such sites have become increasingly common and can provide excellent guidance on all matters relating to the disposing and recycling hazardous waste.
Your Town Hall or other municipal authority can steer you to appropriate contacts in your vicinity. Now that the problem of household hazardous waste disposal has become politically charged, many municipalities provide special pickup days for HHW at your curb, and keep a collection center open for non-scheduled disposal.
For most of us, it is better to let skilled professionals, who have been properly instructed in the best practices regarding household hazardous wastes, perform their jobs in facilities that have been set up for precisely that purpose.
We can certainly assist these trained professionals, however, by doing the following:
- Recycle hazardous waste whenever possible, but first gather information from your local recycling plant regarding what can be recycled. Putting aerosol cans out for recycling may be OK in one town, but prohibited in the next.
- Follow the directions on container labels. Cleansers, sprays and aerosols, and, these days, all chemicals carry express disposal and handling instructions on their labels.
- Drugs and other medications can sometimes be recycled separately from the plastic pill bottle. Check with your pharmacist—some progressive drug stores have a program in place, but the rest should be able to guide you to a program to handle disposal and recycling of leftover OTC and prescription medications.
- Businesses that sell products that become or create hazardous household waste have established recycling programs. Some provide rebates, too! Use these services. Examples include automobile repair shops (they recycle oil and batteries) and hardware and paint stores.
- Take appropriate precautions when storing and transporting HHWs for disposal: keep them properly sealed, and within recommended temperature ranges. Do not allow the containers to be crushed or become susceptible to shock.
- Never forget that we call these materials “hazardous” for a reason. They are dangerous and many can, in an instant, become lethal. Resist the urge to become an amateur chemist- never try to mix all your leftover chemicals into one big jug for easier transport to the hazardous waste collection center.