Everyone’s got ‘em. You know; those bottles, cans and jars in the basement and garage with chemicals and liquids that you used once and stored for future use. Do you even remember what you have? Perhaps it’s gasoline, oil, pesticides or paint. How old are those products?
These chemicals often become household hazardous waste, or HHW, which means they are unwanted products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable or reactive ingredients that require special care upon disposal. You should never pour these products down the drain, on the ground, into storm sewers; burn them; flush them down the toilet; bury them; dump them in vacant lots or in ditches; or put them out with your trash.
The dangers of these improper disposal methods might not be apparent, but they can contaminate lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater (located below the ground before it goes to a river, stream or well); pollute the air with dangerous fumes; or put your sanitation and landfill workers at risk for serious injury.
Ignoring HHW and storing it indefinitely is not the best solution and only delays the inevitable disposal. Additionally, containers and contents degrade over time, labels get lost or become unreadable, and the chances of children or pets finding these poisons increase.
Here in Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties, the solid waste districts sponsor mobile collections to give residents the opportunity to properly dispose of these products. Often, the costs of each collection can be between $15,000 to $40,000 per event, depending an the amount and types of products collected. These collections travel to convenient locations during spring, summer and fall so residents don't have to travel far for this service. Believe it or not, much of what is collected is actually recycled!
The best way to handle HHW is simply by practicing the “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” approach to waste reduction. Usually called the “Three R’s,” we like to add an extra “R” for “Rethink,” because it’s best to “Rethink” habits in order to create better ones and reduce our environmental impact.
Reduce! The best way to manage your HHW is to not have it in the first place. Minimize your purchases of products containing hazardous ingredients. Consider logical organic alternatives, like natural pesticides. If you must purchase products with hazardous ingredients, buy only as much as you need. Even if larger containers cost less, smaller containers save on storage room and the potential inconvenience of seeking appropriate disposal.
Reuse! If you must purchase products with hazardous ingredients, use them completely and properly, according to directions, so the chemicals don’t become HHW. Be aware that even when you think you have emptied a container, usually some liquid remains that should be disposed of appropriately. For this reason, empty containers should never be placed in a recycle bin; they should be disposed of at an HHW event.
If you have leftover products and can’t use them, ask your neighbors, friends and family members if they can utilize them. If they can’t, consider donating these items to a charity or service organization. Local groups and shelters on tight budgets may happily accept cleaning supplies and paints. Make sure donated products are in their original labeled containers, so new users can become aware of any safety precautions.
Recycle! If you have HHW, check the container labels for disposal recommendations. If the labels don’t offer recommendations, contact your solid waste management district to learn about collection events and disposal tips.
Rethink! Consider your HHW purchases, usage, storage and disposal methods, and reduce, reuse and recycle. Opportunities abound to help you make the right choices and make a difference.
One last note: These collections do not accept controlled substances. If you do not know if your medications fall into that category, contact your local police departments to see if they collect medications. Many police departments have a drop box where residents can drop off medications any time, and they accept controlled substances!