If you are about to get an early start on spring cleaning, especially in your garage or storage area, you should know that not all unwanted household items are created equal. Some items such as old paints, pesticides, discarded cleaning products, antifreeze or other chemicals cannot be sent to local landfills, placed in regular trash collection or dumped down the drain or toilet because of their potential to contaminate both water and soil. Disposing of these items safely protects your family, the environment, and your drinking water.
A June 2016 report by the Environmental Protection Agency notes that Americans each generate an average of about 4 pounds of household hazardous waste every year. The EPA notes that the dangers of improper disposal of household hazardous waste “might not be immediately obvious … “but can pollute the environment and pose a threat to human health.” Some types of hazardous waste can harm sanitation workers, “contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems.”
What qualifies as household hazardous waste? According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, HHW includes (but is not limited to):
- Drain cleaner and oven cleaner
- Fluorescent light bulbs
- Fuels (gasoline, kerosene)
- Pool chemicals (chlorine and acid)
- Wood stains and varnish
The TCEQ recommends that you keep items being discarded in their original package with labels that can be clearly read. These items should be stored upright to keep them from leaking. Leaking containers can be especially hazardous when two or more types of chemicals mix. The TCEQ notes that mixing chemical together can be dangerous and even potentially deadly. Hazardous items should be stored in a cool, dry place that cannot be reached by children or pets.
As a means of reducing the amount of hazardous materials in your home, the TCEQ recommends buying only the amount you will soon need, and avoid buying these items in bulk. You might also consider using alternative products which are not considered hazardous.
So what is one to do with household hazardous waste? Most communities mark special days and sites for household hazardous waste collection, while others will pick the items up from your home on certain days.
Some communities, such as Belton and Sugar Land, offer a household pickup of some items when you schedule this in advance. Visit your city or county’s website for more information on household waste collection events or to see if your community offers pickup service.
What happens to this waste once it is turned in? The EPA notes that “many hazardous wastes can be recycled safely and effectively, while other wastes will be treated and disposed of in landfills or incinerators.”
More information on disposing of household hazardous waste is available at https://www.tceq.texas.gov/p2/hhw/hhw.html or https://www.epa.gov/hw/household-hazardous-waste-hhw. The EPA website has a list of alternative products which can help you reduce the amount of chemicals in your home.