Household hazardous waste instructional guide

By Environmental Health Watch

Hazardous waste usually makes us think of giant chemical companies or 55-gallon drums leaking toxic slime, yet many of the products we use in the home qualify as hazardous waste (i.e. they are ignitable, corrosive, reactive, and/or toxic). These products can pose threats to our health and to the environment when we put them in the trash, dump them in storm sewers or pour them down the drain.

Toxic products carelessly tossed in the trash have caused injuries to sanitation workers, damage to collection vehicles and have polluted the environment. Similarly, when dumped down the drain, household hazardous wastes damage plumbing and septic tanks and contribute to water pollution. Perhaps worst of all, dumping chemical products into a storm sewer is like dumping them directly into Lake Erie.

The Cuyahoga County Solid Waste Management Plan (1994) estimates that 10 pounds of household hazardous waste (HHW) per person are generated annually. Extending that rate to the seven-county population of 2.8 million gives an estimate of 14,000 tons of household hazardous waste generated annually. Even if all those 14,000 tons are taken to special collection programs, the toxic ingredients still end up in hazardous waste landfills, hazardous waste incinerators or injected deep under the ground.

None of the disposal methods is without environmental risk. The best solution: avoid the problem of disposal altogether by using alternatives to hazardous household products or purchasing only small quantities that will be used up entirely.

What to do with household hazardous waste?

Give an unused portion to someone else. Unless a product has been specifically banned for consumer usesuch as DDT or carbon tetrachlorideyou can give it to someone else to use up. It is important that the product be in the original container and come with complete directions for safe use. Certain items, like paint for example, can be donated to community organizations or theater groups.

Take it to a household hazardous waste (HHW) event. Many communities throughout Ohio have established household hazardous waste programs. These may be either one day events or permanent collection facilities. HHW programs are sponsored by the county Solid Waste Management Districts; see the end of this section for a list of contacts.

Store safely until a hazardous waste collection program begins. Until it can be disposed of properly, HHW must be stored safely. Household hazardous products should be stored securely away from children and pets and, if flammable, away from any source of spark or flame. Ideally, the products should be stored outside of the home in a garage or storage shed, labeled and in their original containers or suitable replacement containers, and unmixed with other products. For containers that might leak or for especially dangerous products, pack the original in a stronger secondary container.

Solidify and discard with trash. Some less hazardous liquid wastes can be solidified with kitty litter, sawdust, vermiculite or other inert absorbent material. Out of doors, mix the liquid with the kitty litter in a cardboard box lined with plastic and let it dry out. Take care when handling liquids to prevent spills or splashes, be sure to protect skin and eyes, and don't inhale the fumes. Once completely absorbed, wrap these materials in two plastic trash bags and discard with the household trash. This procedure is not encouraged unless better alternatives do not exist.

Dilute with water and flush down the sanitary sewer drain. In many communities, the sanitary sewer treatment system can handle some toxic chemicals. Use plenty of water to flush the allowable material down the laundry tub or toilet and be sure to protect skin and eyes. If you have any doubts, check first with your local wastewater treatment authority. If you have a septic tank, do not pour HHW down the drain. And never pour HHW into the storm sewers, since these go directly to lakes and streams.

Burnable liquidsTake to hazardous waste facility. Some local hazardous waste companies, as a public service, will accept burnable liquids, such as oil-based paints, solvents, and automotive products. The materials are blended together for use as industrial fuels. Check with your Solid Waste Management District to see if there are companies in the area that will take burnable liquids.

When in doubt. For disposal of products not specified here, contact the resources listed below. Other possible sources of advice include local poison control centers, city service departments, health departments, environmental regulatory agencies and high school or college chemistry departments.

Environmental Health Watch is a nonprofit resource center in Cleveland offering information on chemical hazards in the home and community

Household hazardous waste information

  • Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District (216-443-3749).
  • Geauga County SWMD (330-675-2673).
  • Lake County SWMD (440-350-2645).
  • Lorain County SWMD (440-329-5440).
  • Medina County SWMD (330-723-9588).
  • Portage County SWMD (330-678-8808).
  • Summit/Akron Solid Waste Authority (330-374-0383).
  • Environmental Health Watch, 216-961-4646.
  • Ohio EPA, HHW Technical Assistance, 614-644-2621.
  • Waste Watch Center, publisher of HHW Management News, 508-470-3044.
  • A Consumer Guide To Safer Alternatives To Hazardous Household Products, Part II.


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    EcoCity Cleveland
    3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
    Cuyahoga Bioregion
    (216) 961-5020
    Copyright 2002-2003

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