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Spring cleaning? Be mindful of hazardous household waste

Spring cleaning? Be mindful of hazardous household waste

With the spring season in full swing and an increase in the amount of time spent at home, many Texans are getting the chance to do a little spring cleaning, including disposing of stored products that are no longer needed or useful. But some of your standard household products may contain chemicals that can cause safety issues for people and the environment and are not safe for regular trash collection.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), household hazardous waste or HHW can be defined as “leftover household products that can catch fire, react or explode under certain circumstances, or that are corrosive or toxic as household hazardous waste.” In order to prevent any incidents, it is important to know what items are considered household hazardous waste and how to properly use, store and dispose of these products.

Some common household hazardous waste products include: 

-    Paints (oil-based and some anti-mildew latex)
-    Mercury
-    Oils (cooking and auto)
-    Batteries
-    Pesticides
-    Wood stains and varnishes
-    Fuels (gasoline, propane, diesel)
-    Fluorescent light bulbs
-    Pool chlorine and acid
-    Corrosive cleaners (drain cleaners, lye-based oven cleaners, etc.)

If you use these products in your home, it is vital to follow these basic safety guidelines: 

-    Be sure to follow any instructions for use and storage provided on the product’s label. 
-    Keep these products in their original container to eliminate confusion. 
-    Store your HHW upright, not on its side.
-    Keep in a cool, dry place. 
-    Never mix HHW products together. 

If you are done using your HHW products and need to dispose of them, extra steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of those around you and the health of the environment. Even empty containers have remnants of the product that could potentially be dangerous and disposing of these products incorrectly can cause a variety of consequences. Improper disposal of HHWs will not only hurt the environment and potentially pollute local waterways, but they also pose a threat to human health. The toxicity of these products has the potential of injuring sanitation workers, harming those who live in your household or polluting landfills and, ultimately, our drinking water system. 

Though these products are potentially dangerous if not handled correctly, the U.S. Congress passed an exclusion for household waste regulation in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 261.4.  Under this exclusion, some wastes generated by “normal household activities” are excluded from the definition of hazardous waste, allowing them to be regulated on a state and local level. In Texas, these exceptions fall under the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality which states, “If a product is generated by a household, these materials are not required to be handled as hazardous waste and can often be placed in regular trash.” 

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Some commonly used household products are generally labeled as nonhazardous and are exempt from state HHW collection requirements. Referred to as “BOPA” include batteries, used oil, latex paint and antifreeze. The TCEQ does not maintain a list of collections for BOPA materials, as they are often regulated under other programs. However, many programs that collect HHW will often accept BOPA materials. To find a site that accepts BOPA materials, check with your local government or click here

So how can you protect yourself, the environment and local waterways from the potential risks of household hazardous waste? Fortunately, there are multiple ways to safely dispose of HHW. Most HHW products have disposal directions on their labels, so following the product’s disposal instructions is an easy way to get rid of HHW safely. 

If the product doesn’t have disposal instructions or you want to be cautious, many communities in Texas have HHW drop-off facilities or host hazardous household waste events. These events allow citizens to drop off their HHW at a particular site or the city will even come and collect HHW from different neighborhoods. When you bring your HHW to a drop-off facility, be sure to keep the product in their original container so workers can determine proper disposal methods. It is also important to ensure that product is properly secured in your vehicle while transporting it to a drop-off facility to prevent spillage. 

Unfortunately, many HHW events scheduled for this spring have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these events have been rescheduled for a later date, so you can continue to properly store these products until these events are rescheduled. However, HHW drop-off facilities are still open and ready to accept your HHW products. The TCEQ keeps an updated list of ongoing HHW programs and events around the state—to learn more about local programs and upcoming events in your county, click here.

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