What Household Hazardous Wastes are in your Home?

A couple of weeks ago we posted about Green Cleaning Supplies that could be used for spring cleaning. That made me think of what we can do with some of our chemical cleaning supplies if we no longer need them. As the weather warms up, you will likely see a household hazardous waste event come to your area. We’ve posted about HHW’s in the past but it’s always a good idea to get a refresher on valuable knowledge!

The EPA defines a household hazardous waste as, “leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients.”

  • Corrosive materials are any material that can cause skin damage to people or a substance that significantly corrodes metal. Items like bleach, ammonia, and several household cleaners would fall into this category.
  • Toxic materials are poisonous meaning they can cause illness or death. Vehicle fluids like antifreeze and gasoline are toxic.
  • Ignitable materials are those items that have the potential to ignite during routine handling due to friction or heat sources, or by contact with other chemicals. Alcohol containing items are often ignitable.
  • Reactive materials are those which tend to react spontaneously during routine handling, to react vigorously with air or water, to be unstable to shock or heat, to generate toxic gases, or to explode. A common reactive combination is that of mixing bleach and ammonia which will expel a toxic gas [source].

Due to the potential dangers of these products, many cities have HHW events to provide a safe place for disposal of unneeded items. If you are unsure about what items in your home may qualify as household hazardous wastes, we have put together a helpful eBook on the subject. It details 10 different types of household hazardous wastes and provides information about what they are, why they are dangerous, and what you should do with them. It also contains lists of items that fall into each of the 10 categories. If you are interested in this eBook just clock the button below to be taken to the download form.

Is It Hazardous Waste… Old Electronics?

This one may come as a shock to you because we don’t tend to think of things we use regularly (like our cell phones, iPods, and computers) as having the possibility to be considered hazardous. These types of wastes, identified by the somewhat new term E-wastes, include a bevy of items falling under the umbrella of out dated and out of use electronics.

What might I have?

So what exactly are e-wastes? According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, “’E-waste’ refers to any unwanted electronic device or Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) and is classified as universal waste. E-waste frequently contains hazardous materials, predominantly lead and mercury, and is produced by households, businesses, governments, and industries.” That said, anything from old stereos and boom boxes to outdated cellphones or computers can fall into this category.

What does this mean for me?

Does this mean that the longer you keep your computer the greater the chance is of it spontaneously going up in flames? Not at all. It simply means that when the time comes to dispose of your old computer you need to be sure to do it in the proper manner.

According to the Marion County ToxDrop Committee, “everything from cell phones to computers needs to be recycled rather than thrown away. Electronics contain hazardous materials such as lead and mercury. These materials, if buried in a landfill, can contaminate groundwater and cause serious health issues for humans.”

How can I dispose of my e-wastes?

Electronics can be broken down and separated into plastic and aluminum to be reused. The City of Indianapolis has a program called ToxDrop for all city citizens where you can drop off your electronics and household hazardous waste to be recycled and/or disposed of properly. Most other cities have similar programs. It just takes a quick Google search to find out about one near you!

Is it Hazardous Waste… Fluorescent Light Bulbs?

Because they are a greener alternative to traditional light bulbs, fluorescents have become increasingly popular in homes and businesses. This category includes fluorescent lamp tubes or bulbs. Fluorescent lamp ballasts are also considered a part of this category.

The danger with these bulbs is that they contain small amounts of mercury, a potent, developmental neurotoxin that can damage the brain, liver, kidneys and central nervous system, especially in infants and young children.

The bulbs are perfectly safe as long as the glass is not broken and for that reason it is important to be especially careful when disposing of spent fluorescent bulbs. Since they contain mercury, fluorescent bulbs should be recycled in order to ensure that they stay out of landfills where they could contaminate the air, soil and/or groundwater.

The EPA provides a few reasons why is Recycling CFLs Important as well. Recycling prevents the release of mercury into the environment. CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs often break when thrown into a dumpster, trash can or compactor, or when they end up in a landfill or incinerator.

Other materials in the bulbs get reused. Recycling CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs allows the reuse of the glass, metals, and other materials that make up fluorescent lights. Virtually all components of a fluorescent bulb can be recycled.

Your area may require recycling. Some states and local jurisdictions have more stringent regulations than the U.S. EPA does, and may require that you recycle CFLs and other mercury-containing light bulbs. California, Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont and Massachusetts, for example, all prohibit mercury-containing lamps from being discarded into landfills.

Some examples include:

  • CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamp), U-Bends, Circular
  • 4’ and 8’ fluorescent lamp tubes

Are They Hazardous Wastes… Pesticides and Herbicides?

Pesticides and herbicides are substances used to help control pests like insects, arachnids, rodents, and weeds. Oftentimes used in gardening, they are intended to help us keep these pests both from damaging produce and harming people with bites or stings. While these products are undeniably helpful, they also pose certain dangers.

According to the University of Missouri, accidental exposure to pesticides can occur through ingestion, inhalation, and/or skin absorption. Once exposed, pesticides can harm organisms including pets, livestock, wildlife, and people. Physical reaction varies in relation to the type of pesticide, the amount of pesticide one is exposed to, and the age and health of the victim.

Similar to most kinds of household poisons, children are generally more susceptible to harm from pesticides than are adults, due to lower body weight and increased toxins per pound. “Children are also especially sensitive to the neurotoxins often found in pesticides, because children’s immune systems, organs, brains, and nervous systems are still developing.”

In addition to poisoning, the EPA warns that, “The potential [negative] environmental impacts from pesticide disposal are air, soil, and water contamination from releases and accidental exposure of humans and animals.”

The environmental implications concerning improper disposal are the same as for the application process, except that the concentration of the pesticide may be stronger because of the quantity and mass of the disposed pesticide. The disposal of pesticides is a critical process; if not properly conducted it can have immediate, detrimental effects on the environment. The EPA encourages either storing excess pesticides for later use or returning it to the manufacturer for relabeling or reprocessing into other materials.

If you have any unused pesticides or herbicides the best way to dispose of them is at a Household Hazardous Waste collection event.

Some examples of the types of products to look for are:

  • Non-Aerosol Pesticides and Herbicides
  • Rat Poison
  • Roach Traps
  • Home and Garden Sprays (Non-Aerosol)
  • Roundup
  • Weed-B-Gon
  • Non-Aerosol Sprays
  • Citronella Candles
  • Fertilizer
  • Ant Traps
  • GrubEx
  • Weed and Feed

Is it Hazardous Waste…Batteries?

One of the most commonly known potentially hazardous wastes you can find in homes is batteries. This includes used or spent batteries, such as alkaline or lead-acid car batteries. I know that before I began working for a hazardous waste company I always wondered if I was doing the right thing with my dead batteries.

According to the Duracell website, normal alkaline batteries can, in most cases, be thrown out with your household trash; however, we recommend that you recycle them or take them to an HHW event whenever possible because, although mercury has been removed from most commercial alkaline batteries available today, they still contain toxins that should not be released into the environment.

Additionally, if you do choose to throw away your used batteries, it is important that you do so in small numbers. Even dead batteries are often times not completely drained, so throwing away large quantities of batteries together could still be dangerous. A large group of mostly used batteries can work together to produce a charge.

Lastly, due to the chemicals in battery types other than alkaline, you should make sure to recycle rechargeable, lithium, lithium ion, and zinc air batteries. There are several ways to recycle batteries, and a quick internet search will provide you with plenty of options including Heritage Lifecycle Battery Recycling Kits.

Some examples of the types of batteries you may have in your home are:

  • Car Batteries (Lead-acid)
  • Alkaline Batteries (AA, AAA, C, D)
  • Rechargeable Batteries (Lithium-ion, NiMH, NiCd)
  • Camera Batteries
  • Lithium Batteries
  • Zinc Air Batteries
  • Etc.

So now you know, while it is true that most standard batteries can be disposed of in your regular trash, it is still important to go about it the right way. Throw away only in small quantities and if possible take to a household hazardous waste day instead.

Is it Hazardous Waste… Household Cleaners?

You may remember from some of our previous posts about household hazardous wastes that the rules are different for homes vs. businesses. The primary distinction being that residential homes are not regulated by the EPA. That said, it is still a very good idea to properly dispose of those items in your home which could be considered hazardous.

In the past we’ve written about telling the difference between hazardous and non-hazardous paints as well as knowing when aerosol cans are considered hazardous. Today I want to discuss household cleaners. While the ideal situation is that you would use up the cleaner via its intended purpose, I know that sometimes we buy items that we just don’t like; tile cleaners that don’t quite do the job, window cleaners that leave streaks, etc. When this happens we may find ourselves at a loss for getting rid of it.

The primary concern when it comes to household cleaners is whether or not they can be considered corrosive. A corrosive is any material that can cause skin damage to people or a substance that significantly corrodes metal. They can be liquid or solid and either acidic or caustic in nature.

Many household cleaners (such as bleach and ammonia) are considered corrosive materials. In addition to potentially causing severe skin damage, certain corrosive cleaning materials (such as toilet bowl or tub and tile cleaner) can be poisonous if ingested.

Another danger of cleaning materials is the fumes they give off which can cause significant damage to humans as well as the environment. These fumes can be made worse when different chemical cleaners are mixed, for example, ammonia and bleach. When combined, these two common household items will put off a toxic gas that initially attacks the eyes and mucous membranes. Prolonged exposure can burn the lungs, cause loss of consciousness, respiratory failure, and even death.

Long story short, it’s important to know what is in your cleaners so you can determine the best way to dispose of them. Luckily, many companies are now altering formulas or making “green” alternative options that you can buy. These should be easier to dispose of if need be. If, however, you have an old corrosive material it would be best disposed of at an HHW (household hazardous waste) event.