How to Dispose of Toxic Waste Safely
These pro tips from Lou Manfredini, a do-it-yourself expert, will help you keep both the environment and your health in mind as you discard old, hazardous items.
It's safe to say that you likely have a few old batteries, cleaning supplies, and more everyday home improvement essentials stored around your home right now. With the chemicals and other toxic materials found in some common household products, it's important to keep your safety at the forefront when discarding these items. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the minimum protection required for handling hazardous materials includes gloves, coveralls, safety glasses, face shield, and chemical-resistant, steel-toe shoes. Even though a majority of toxic products in your home can be easily tossed out, how do you best handle each one? We asked for tips and insights from Lou Manfredini, a nationally recognized home improvement expert known as "Mr. Fix It" who regularly contributes to NBC's Today Show and serves as Ace Hardware's home expert.
It's always helpful to know the contents of each type of hazardous product. According to Manfredini, the majority of aerosols are CFC-free, meaning free of carbon, chlorine, fluorine, and hydrogen, so consumers should try to use all of the contents before disposal. "If it's paint, paint something, if it's hair spray, use it until there is nothing left," Manfredini says. "Then these products should be collected and taken to a hazardous disposal site."
Antifreeze and Motor Oil
To remove these materials, recycling is the best option, and you can do so at your local auto shop. "Service locations recycle the oil and fluids they acquire, and they may either take it for free or charge a small fee to accept it," the do-it-yourself expert shares.
While there are misconceptions about how batteries should be discarded, Manfredini explains that many can simply be thrown away. "Alkaline batteries, which are the most common AA, AAA, D, C, and nine-volt, can be safely placed in the trash," he says. "They should never be placed in recycling bins." On the other hand, different kinds of batteries that are often found in cellphones can be recycled. In spite of this, you will still need to look for local retailers and services online to mail those battery varieties. "Other types of batteries, like Lithium Ion, (typically cellphone batteries and cordless tool batteries) as well as NiCad batteries should be recycled," he says, adding that it's a good idea to call your local hardware store to see if they serve as a collection site for these types of batteries. "They may offer the service for free or charge a nominal fee."
CFLs, Thermometers, and Other Items That Contain Mercury
Your best bet to discard items containing mercury would be at a regional or national chain utility company. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you should keep an eye on packaging and labels including the words "mercurous chloride," "calomel," "mercuric," "mercurio," or "mercury" to check for products that feature mercury. "In the past, there were more options for disposal," Manfredini says, "but as compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs start to give way to the growth of LED lights, the options for disposal locations are becoming fewer and fewer." His advice? "You can also contact your local municipality to find a hazardous waste collection site in your area."
E-waste (Televisions, Computers, Stereos, Cell phones)
A local hazardous waste facility is the best way to dispose of electronics, however, there are a few steps you should take before doing so. "According to the EPA, you should make sure to delete all personal information from your electronics," Manfredini says. "Additionally, remove any batteries from your electronics, they may need to be recycled separately. You can find a certified collection site in your area by contacting the local municipality near you."
Paints and Solvents
Oil-based paints and solvents should be disposed at hazardous waste facilities. Latex paints can be collected at hardware stores. Even though there will likely be a small fee for each can, a helpful hint is to mix the remaining paint together. The paints that the stores receive can be recycled into new pre-mixed paint colors, so you can save money by mixing them together before heading to the store. Additionally, "if you have three cans of paint that you can pour into on gallon then you only pay for that," Manfredini adds. "Let the other cans dry and those can be thrown into the trash."
Household products like insect repellent spray can only be safely removed at a local hazardous waste facility. Manfredini recommends keeping them stored safely and using the rest according to the directions on its packaging. Store pesticides in their original container and ensure they are sealed and are not leaking if liquid form. If the original container is damaged, consider buying a container that can be sealed to ensure safety such as a canning jar which come in many sizes. "If you don't have a further use for the pesticide product, follow the label directions for disposal or contact your state pesticide regulatory agency," he says.
You can dispose of these products by throwing them away in the trash after removing the batteries. It's worth noting that Manfredini recommends getting a new smoke detector every ten years.