Many of the products we use in our everyday lives to care for ourselves, our home, our yard, and our car are hazardous because they contain ingredients that are corrosive, explosive, flammable or toxic. Such products include paints, pesticides, cleaning products, battery acid, and nail polish remover. When these products are no longer wanted around the house, these products become household hazardous waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the average household disposes of one pound of hazardous waste each year. If hazardous waste is disposed of improperly, the health of sanitation workers is threatened and many times, these hazardous chemicals end up polluting our environment. Remember, it only takes one gallon of oil to ruin one million gallons of water.
Let’s clear up some confusion regarding improper disposal options for household hazardous waste:
1. Don’t throw it in the garbage. Hazardous chemicals thrown into the trash can seriously harm sanitation workers if the chemical explodes, catches fire or gives off harmful fumes. In addition, most landfills are not designed to handle hazardous household wastes, so chemicals leak into the water supplies or cause air pollution.
2. Don’t pour it down the drain (or storm drain!). Chemicals that are poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet end up either in a septic system or municipal sewer system. This can cause the septic system to not operate properly because chemicals harm the beneficial bacteria. Some hazardous materials may pass through the municipal system or the septic and contaminate groundwater or surface water.
3. Don’t burn it. When burning hazardous chemicals, you risk producing poisonous fumes, creating air pollution, or causing an explosion.
4. Don’t bury it. If you bury hazardous wastes, they may contaminate the soil and/or the groundwater.
So what are some GOOD options for disposal? Most importantly, read the label – many times the label gives disposal options. Also, buy only enough of the product that you know you will use up. Hazardous materials only become waste when there is unused product that is unwanted. Recycle what you can nearby – some stores will recycle batteries, ink cartridges, used oil and other wastes. You can also save household hazardous wastes for a collection day which occurs annually in Westmoreland County. Just be sure if you decide to save materials, that you keep them in their original containers with readable labels and store them tightly sealed in a cool, dry area out of reach of children and animals.
This year’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day will be held on September 15 7:30 am – 11:00 am for Westmoreland County at the A.T. Johnson Building and 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm time for Richmond County at the Indian Fields Refuse Center. The Collection is coordinated by the Northern Neck Soil and Water Conservation District and Virginia Cooperative Extension, with funding provided by the local governments. There is no charge for residents bringing acceptable items to the collection day. Acceptable items include: spent fluorescent bulbs, unwanted household pesticides, antifreeze, NiCad, NiMH and other rechargeable batteries, cleaners, non-latex paints/stains, old/contaminated fuels, household cleaners, and many more. For more information regarding the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day, call the NNSWCD at 804-333-3525 x 102 or contact me at 493-8924.
Stephanie Romelczyk is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County.