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can of paint Household Hazardous Waste:  Steps to Safe Management

cover of household hazardous waste brochure

What is Household Hazardous Waste?

Some jobs around the home may require the use of products containing hazardous components. Such products may include certain paints, cleaners, stains and varnishes, car batteries, motor oil, and pesticides. The used of leftover contents of such consumer products are known as “household hazardous waste.”

Americans generate 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste per year. The average home can accumulate as much as 100 pounds of household hazardous waste in the basement or garage and in storage closets. When improperly disposed of, household hazardous waste can create a potential risk to people and the environment. This page describes steps that people can take to reduce the amount of household hazardous waste they generate and to ensure that those wastes are safely stored, handled and disposed of.

bottle of automobile oil

What Are the Dangers of Improper Disposal?

Household hazardous wastes are sometimes disposed of improperly by individuals pouring wastes down the drain, on the ground, into storm sewers, or putting them out with the trash. The dangers of such disposal methods may not be immediately obvious, but certain types of household hazardous waste have the potential to cause physical injury to sanitation workers; contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems if poured down drains or toilets; and present hazards to children and pets if left around the house. While households do not have to separate household hazardous waste from trash under federal law, some states have special requirements. Call local or state solid waste officials to learn what requirements apply to households or small businesses in your area.

Move to Reduce and Recycle

One way to reduce the potential concerns associated with household hazardous waste is to take actions that use nonhazardous or less hazardous components to accomplish the task at hand. Individuals can do this by reducing the amount and/or toxicity of products with hazardous components, use only the amount needed. Leftover materials can be shared with neighbors or donated to a business charity, or government agency, or given to a household hazardous waste program. Excess pesticide might be offered to a greenhouse or garden center, for example, and theater groups also need surplus paint. Some communities have even organized waste exchanges where household hazardous waste can be swapped or given away.

Recycling is an economical and environmentally sound way to handle some types of household hazardous waste, such as used automobile batteries and oil. Auto parts stores and service stations frequently accept used automobile batteries, and 80 percent of these batteries are currently recycled. In addition, hundreds of local governments working with civic organizations and private firms have implemented successful used oil recycling programs. Many service stations have begun collecting used oil as a service to their customers. Check with local solid waste officials to find out if a used oil recycling program is operating in your area.

aerosol can of bug spray

Safe Management Methods

Because of the potential risks associated with household hazardous wastes, it is important that people always use, store, and dispose of materials containing hazardous substances safely:

Tip #1
Use and store products containing hazardous substances carefully to prevent any accidents at home. Never store hazardous products in food containers. Keep products containing hazardous materials in their original containers and never remove the labels. Corroding containers, however, should be repackaged and clearly labeled. This will prevent accidental ingestion and also can help protect sanitation workers.

Tip #2
When leftovers remain, never mix household hazardous waste with other products. Incompatibilities may react, ignite, or explode; contaminated household hazardous waste may become unrecyclable.

Tip #3
Follow any instructions for disposal and use provided on the label.

Tip #4
Take household hazardous waste to a local collection program, if available.

Mother and daughter carrying household hazardous waste to hazardous waste collection point

Household Hazardous Waste Collection Days

During the 1980s, many communities started special collection days or permanent collection sites for handling household hazardous waste. On collection days, qualified professionals collect hazardous wastes at a central location to ensure safe waste disposal. Over 3,000 collection programs have been undertaken in the United States. Check with the local chamber of commerce, county, or state environmental or solid waste agency to see if there is a household hazardous waste collection program in your area.

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About...

The following free publications are available from the EPA's RCRA Hotline at Phone: [Hotline] (800) 424-9346 or (703) 412-9810:

bulletCharacterization of Products Containing Lead and Cadmium in Municipal Solid Waste in the United States (Summary) - Publication Number EPA/530-SW-89-015C
bulletHousehold Hazardous Waste Management: A Manual for 1-Day Community Collection Programs - Publication Number EPA/530-R-92-026
bulletHow to Set Up a Local Program to Recycle Used Oil - Publication Number EPA/530-SW-89-039A
bulletRecycling Used Oil: What Can You Do? - Publication Number EPA/530-SW-89-039B
bulletUsed Dry Cell Batteries: Is a Collection Program Right for Your Community? - Publication Number EPA/530-K-92-006

 

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Information on related subjects

bullet* Asbestos shingles on your housebullet* General tips and guidancebullet* Garden environmental tips and precautionsbullet* Household waste and recycling at homebullet* Free publications about recycling at homebullet* Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about recycling at home bullet* Battery disposal for households, homes and individualsbullet* Household Products bulletHow to find what toxic substances are in common household products

 

Guides and Publications - Free to download or print

bulletDisposal Tips for Home Health Care including New Information about Disposing of Medical Sharps [PDF, 4 pages, 66 KB] - a flyer that gives tips for preventing injury, illness, and pollution when disposing of home health care products
bullet"GreenScaping" Your Lawn and Garden [PDF, 8 pages, 1772 KB] - a booklet providing a few simple waste reduction practices that can not only improve your lawn and garden, but also the environment (también en Español) [PDF, 8 pages, 313 KB]
bulletMoving Out, Moving In [PDF, 12 pages, 331 KB] - a guide suggesting environmentally safe alternatives to throwing away unwanted “junk” and showing how to purchase new items with the environment in mind
bulletSetting Up a Home Office [PDF, 4 pages, 443 KB] - a fact sheet on how to set up an environment-friendly home office
bulletVolunteer for Change: A Guide to Environmental Community Service [PDF, 24 pages, 581 KB] - a booklet containing examples of volunteer projects related to solid waste management (también en Español) [PDF, 24, pages, 578 KB]
bulletYou Dump It, You Drink It: Recycle Used Motor Oil [PDF, 4 pages, 127 KB] - a brochure for consumers who change their own motor oil (también en Español) [PDF, 4 pages, 178 KB]

More Detailed Information:

Aluminum
Antifreeze
See also Spent Antifreeze and Recycled Antifreeze
Automotive Parts
Backyard Burning
Batteries
See also Battery Act, Battery Lifecycle, Vehicle Batteries, and Universal Waste
See Construction Products - Buy Recycled and Construction Products - Listing of Suppliers
Burden Reduction
Burning
Buy Recycled
Carpet
Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs)
Composting
Construction Materials
See also Buy Recycled and Listing of Suppliers
Containers
Educational Materials
Electronics, Lifecycle
See also Electronics Recycling , JTR Electronics, Plug-In To eCycling,
WasteWise Electronics Challenge

Glass
See also Glass Cullet, Recycled Glass Artwork

See Buy Recycled and Listing of Suppliers

Plastics
See also Plastic Fencing , Plastic Desktop Accessories, Plastic Envelopes, Plastic Trash Bags, Plastic Landscape Timbers , JTR Plastics

Public Participation (Public Involvement)

Vehicles, Lifecycle

Yard Trimmings/Food Scraps