Creating a sustainable, eco-friendly environment begins at home. The modern household contains many times more hazardous chemicals than it might have 20 years ago, in everything from a toilet bowl cleaner to a wide-screen TV. For instance, the average entertainment center may have no fewer than four battery-operated remotes. Keeping these toxins out of the groundwater, soil, air and our own bodies is a growing challenge. It means they must never be poured down a drain or thrown away in the trash. While it may seem like it’s more trouble than it’s worth, it’s quite easy to dispose of hazardous household waste by keeping a few simple guidelines in mind.
Household Items That Contain Mercury
With new light bulb efficiency standards beginning to take effect, the push is on for consumers to replace incandescents with compact fluorescents (CFLs). Used properly, these bulbs last far longer on fewer watts. Unfortunately, they contain mercury, which is toxic when inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin, even in small amounts. Dispose of CFLs by placing them in their original containers and dropping them off at the nearest home improvement center with a designated collection site.
Older thermometers, thermostats, barometers, blood pressure gauges, microwave ovens and even some vintage children’s toys also contain small amounts of mercury. Do not set these items out on the curb for pickup. Call your local waste management company to locate a recycling center in your area.
There are probably dozens of batteries in every household. Cars, cell phones, remotes, laptops, programmable thermostats, flashlights and children’s toys are only a few. Most batteries contain heavy metals that can leach into soil and water as they corrode, or be released in the air if incinerated. Dead batteries that are rechargeable can be dropped off at a local big-box electronics or office supply store. Alkaline batteries may be thrown out in the trash, provided your waste management company uses a landfill and not an incinerator.
Computers, televisions, radios, stereo systems, video games and appliances contain many types of chemicals and heavy metals. The older the item, the more toxic it usually is. In a computer, everything from lead to hexavalent chromium is present in the CPU alone. When piled in a landfill by the hundreds, electronics represent a public health risk. Instead of throwing them out, clean them up and donate them to a library, school, thrift store, church or shelter. If this is not possible, go online to the Environmental Protection Agency website, which lists a number of organizations that accept, repurpose and recycle old electronics.
More and more people are using eco-friendly cleaning products like vinegar and citrus-based cleaners. Still, corrosive bathroom cleaners, oven cleaners and brass and silver polishes are still widely used. Read the labels of cleaning products, especially the older ones, before throwing them away. Water-soluble cleaners can be diluted and washed down the drain. Others must be specially handled by your waste management company. Store them away from direct light and heat until they can be collected safely.
Stains, Paints, Strippers
Stains, shellacs, strippers and mineral spirits should never be poured down a drain or thrown away in the regular trash. These products contain chemicals that are extremely poisonous alone or combined. Some can even explode when exposed to heat and pressure. Almost every county has hazardous waste collection points that will take old home improvement chemicals. A phone call or a quick search online is usually all that’s needed to find one.
Used Motor Oil
For do-it-yourselfers, changing motor oil is an easy and money-saving task. Disposal is quite another thing. At one time, it was considered “okay” to pour it into a ditch or sewer drain. That’s now illegal. Collect used motor oil in a plastic container, seal it and drop it off at your local collection site. If there isn’t one in your community, ask at an automotive repair shop, since their disposal of motor oil is strictly regulated. Used motor oil can be recycled into base oil for other uses and returned to the economy instead of the environment.
A Final Thought
As the population increases, so does the number of potentially hazardous items we buy. With a little bit of research and enough care to dispose of these objects properly, we can do much to reduce and even check the environmental damage they create.