Extension Housing Specialist
Publication Number: HE 368-3
Last Electronic Revision: March 1996 (JWM)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines four major types of hazardous waste.
Corrosive wastes can cause a chemical action that eats away materials or living tissue. Battery acid is an example.
Toxic wastes can cause illness or death. Some are more dangerous than others. Exposure to a small concentration of a highly toxic chemical may cause symptoms of poisoning. Pesticides, cleaning products, paints, photographic supplies and many art supplies are examples.
Ignitable wastes can catch fire spontaneously or burn easily. Charcoal lighter fluid, gasoline, kerosene, nail polish remover and various oils are examples.
Reactive wastes can react with air, water or other substances to cause rapid heating or explosions. Acids that heat up rapidly and spatter when mixed with water are examples.
EPA estimates that the average household disposes of 1 pound of hazardous waste each year. In North Carolina that means that 2,045,700 pounds of hazardous household wastes must be handled properly each year.
Waste from hazardous household products can contaminate lakes, rivers, streams and the groundwater (the places below the ground where water accumulates before it goes to a river, stream or well). This can create serious problems for North Carolinians. Why? Because 55% of all residents and 97% of the state's rural residents rely on ground water as a source of drinking water. Often only a small amount of a hazardous material can cause serious problems. It only takes one gallon of oil to ruin one million gallons of water.
Much of the residential trash in North Carolina is collected door-to-door by private companies or is taken to drop-off centers by individuals. Ultimately the trash is taken to a county landfill. Most landfills are not designed for hazardous household wastes. Hazardous waste can leak into water supplies or cause air pollution, or both.
Hazardous household waste may cause a fire, an explosion or give off dangerous fumes. Sanitation workers have been seriously burned, lost their eyesight or suffered lung damage while compacting hazardous materials. Equipment also has been damaged.
Improper storage may allow chemicals to leak into the environment, causing dangerous chemical reactions, poisoning or pollution.
Improper disposal may allow these chemicals to contaminate soil and/or water.
When you pour hazardous household products down the sink or flush them down the toilet the hazardous materials enter either a septic system or a municipal sewer system.
If you have a septic system, wastewater from your house goes into a tank buried underground. The solids settle out and partially decompose. The remaining wastewater then goes into a drain field where the natural processes ongoing in the soil help to further break down the wastewater. Toxic materials in that wastewater can kill the helpful bacteria and the system will not operate properly.
Some toxic materials move through the soil untreated or unchanged. When this happens ground water or surface waters may become contaminated.
For example, many paint removers and aerosol paint products contain the chemical methylene chloride. This chemical can pass directly through a septic system without breaking down at all. Chlorine bleach can also pass through a septic system without breaking down. Also the chlorine can react with organic matter to form new toxic chemicals.
If your home is hooked to a municipal sewage system, your wastewater is piped to a central sewage plant. After treatment, it is discharged into area rivers, lakes and streams. Most municipal systems rely on bacteria or other organisms to decompose the waste. Some hazardous household waste can pass through the system unchanged and thus pollute the water downstream.
In addition, hazardous household wastes poured down the drain may corrode the plumbing or collect in the trap and release fumes through the drains.
If you pour hazardous household waste in ditches, storm drains or gutters, it can poison plants and wildlife, contaminate the soil, and be harmful to children and adults who come in contact with it When it rains, the hazardous household waste travels directly to nearby streams, rivers and lakes.
If you burn hazardous waste, you risk producing poisonous fumes, contributing to air pollution or causing an explosion.
Controlled burning in special hazardous waste incinerators by trained professionals can be a good disposal method. Open burning by an untrained homeowner is not. Some hazardous materials may not burn away completely and become concentrated in the ash.
If you dump or bury some types of hazardous household wastes, they may leach through the soil and contaminate the soil or water, especially if the waste is persistent or non-biodegradable. Children or pets and wildlife may be hurt. Dogs frequently are poisoned by drinking antifreeze left on roads or driveways.
However, storage may be the safest temporary option for now if there is not a safe and organized system in your community to handle hazardous household waste. (See page 3 for more details on storing hazardous products safely.)
Local ordinances vary. Landfills may or may not accept certain hazardous household products. They also may vary on how they want the product to arrive at the landfill. For example, one landfill may want you to solidify (air-dry) paint and wrap the container. Another landfill may want paint handled a different way. In addition, waste water treatment plants may not allow certain liquids to be poured down the drain. If you have any questions, call your landfill, local waste water treatment company, local waste management office or the Extension Home Economics Agent at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service center in your countv.
Some labels give disposal recommendations. Read the label carefully and follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
When products are fully used up as intended there is no hazardous waste. Buy only as much as you need. Don't buy a gallon of paint, pesticide or specialty cleaner when a quart will do. The large container may cost less per ounce, but leftovers must be stored or dispose of so as not to harm people or the environment.
Recycling means cleaning the potential waste so that the product is usable again. Recycling helps reduce the overall demand for hazardous household products and the amount of waste produced. Presently recycling is available for only a small number of products. Paint thinner, automotive oil and transmission fluid can be recycled.
You can recycle paint thinner at home. Pour paint thinner or cleaner into a jar. Let it sit for several days. The solids will settle to the bottom. When the liquid at the top of the jar is clear, pour it into a container that can be sealed until future use. If pouring stirs up the solids, pour the clear liquid through a funnel lined with old sheet fabric. Dispose of the dried solids in your trash.
Oil and transmission fluids from your car and lawn mower can be recycled. Ask the Extension Home Economics Agent in your county if a collection program is available in your area. Most gas stations and stores that sell auto batteries also will recycle them.
Don't pour hazardous household waste into ditches, storm drains or gutters.
Never burn hazardous household waste.
Never dump or bury hazardous household waste.
Donate paint, household cleaners or other products to a local charity, church or service organization. Theater groups, the local housing authority or a neighbor may be happy to accept small quantities of usable paint or cleaning products.
Some hazardous household wastes are acceptable at landfills if special treatment is followed. Empty hazardous product containers should be rinsed several times before discarding in the trash. (Use the rinse solution in the same manner you were using the chemical solution. Continue safe-use practices.)
Call your local solid waste management company for special information on disposing of hazardous household waste. They can advise you on the disposal methods they prefer. They can also advise you if indeed they will even accept the waste.
Some hazardous household wastes can be flushed down the drain as long as they are followed by plenty of water. This recommendation applies if a hazardous household waste will be neutralized by water or if the municipal or sanitary sewage system is able to remove the toxins or render them harmless. This method is not recommended for people who have septic systems. Heavy concentrations of certain chemicals in a septic tank can destroy the microorganisms that make the system work properly.
Call your local waste-water treatment plant before you flush hazardous household waste down the drain to be sure that the water can be neutralized by their system. Follow their recommendations.
A community waste collection day is one way to manage hazardous household waste and keep it out of the landfill. The collection days are usually sponsored by a local government agency or a private organization. Residents are notified of the date, the drop-off location and the type of materials the program will accept. The collected wastes are recycled, treated or disposed of by a professional handler.
Only a few North Carolina cities and counties currently have periodic collection days for hazardous household waste. If your city or county has such a collection day, use it. It is a good way to dispose of hazardous household wastes, such as automotive paint, brake fluid, drycleaning fluid, engine degreaser, flea powder, epoxies and adhesives, photographic chemicals, paint supplies and thinners, solvent-based cleaners and polishes, mothballs, wood preservatives, gasoline, pesticides, swimming pool chemicals, lacquer and lacquer thinner, car batteries, kerosene, mercury batteries and smoke detectors.
If there is not a collection program in your area, use the recommended disposal methods described earlier. Find someone who might use or recycle your waste. In the meantime, store these products safely!
It would be difficult to eliminate all the hazardous products from our lives. However, we can minimize the environmental problems from their improper use and disposal by:
Be a good citizen. Use and dispose of hazardous household waste responsible. Call your County Extension Home Economics Agent or the local waste management agency, water treatment plant or landfill if you have questions. Make sure the disposal method you use is a safe one so that the hazardous waste does not contaminate your drinking water.
To report products that have harmed you:
U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, 1-800-638-2772
Household Products Disposal Council, 1-202-659-5535.
Decision-Makers Guide to Solid Waste Management, Washington, D.C.: Environmental Protection Agency, EPA / 530-SW-89-072, pp. 117-120, Nov., 1989.
Ground Water Quality: HHW: Issues, Concerns, Some Answers. Iowa State University Extension Service. Ames, Iowa. June, 1988.
Guide to Hazardous Products Around the Home. Springfield, Mo.: Household Hazardous Waste Project, 1989.
Hazardous Products at Home: A Guide to Safe Handling and Disposal. Seattle, Washington: Boeing Support Services, 1990.
Hazardous Waste in Your Home: Here's What You Should Do! University of Wisconsin Extension Service, 1986.
McCann, Alyson and Husband, Thomas P. Household Hazardous Waste. Fact Sheet No 88-3. University of Rhode Island, April, 1988.
Patte, D.E.M. and Davidson, L.E. How Safe Is Our Drinking Water? N.C. State Economist Newsletter, N.C. Agricultural Extension Service, December, 1989.
|Back up one||Return to WQWM Home Page|