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How to dispose of your household hazardous waste

Household waste, including hazardous waste, is specifically exempt from all federal regulations. Just so we're clear, a household waste is defined as:

"any material (including garbage, trash and sanitary wastes in septic tanks) derived from households (including single and multiple residences, hotels and motels, bunkhouses, ranger stations, crew quarters, campgrounds, picnic grounds and day-use recreation areas)"(1)

This doesn't mean you can take some spent lead acid batteries from your shop, take them home and throw them in the trash. The law focuses on where and how the waste was generated. The waste must be generated in a "household" as an ordinary consumer.

Why is household hazardous waste (HHW) exempted? It's not that hazardous wastes from the ordinary consumer don't pollute or contaminate. They do. For example, several landfills are contaminated with mercury from compact fluorescent bulbs, thermometers and switches. Not only can this mercury contaminate soil, ground water, and navigable waters via storm runoff, but it is also emitted into the atmosphere via landfill gas (2).

The exemption of household hazardous waste is due more to the fact that regulatory agencies lack the resources to enforce regulations on the general populace... for now. So it is really left up to the consumer to do the right thing.

What exactly is a hazardous waste? You may be surprised. Expired nicotine patches are classified as acutely hazardous wastes due to the nicotine content (3). Empty bottles of warfarin (used as an anticoagulant) are acutely hazardous wastes unless triple-rinsed with an approved solvent (4). Heck, Sweet n' Low used to be an acutely hazardous waste due to its saccharin content. But the caveat is that it has to be the "sole active ingredient." So Sweet n' Low added "nutritive dextrose" as another active ingredient and thus, empty Sweet n' Low packets were no longer hazardous wastes. In 2010, the EPA removed saccharin from their acutely hazardous waste list (5).

The typical stuff that most people have in their homes that would be considered hazardous would be:

  • Aerosols
  • Paints and adhesives
  • Batteries, especially lead-acid, nickle cadmium, and lithium ion
  • Drain cleaners
  • Fluorescent bulbs and cathode ray tubes (CRT monitors and old televisions)
  • Thermometers and mercury switches (found in appliances)
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Pharmaceuticals

How should I dispose of my household hazardous waste? You could just dump it in the trash. No one is stopping you... but eventually, if everyone does that, then we have contaminated soils, water, air, fish, vegetables, etc. If you want to be a good steward and protect public health and be an overall hero and a decent person, then there are several organizations available that will take your household waste and dispose of it or recycle it responsibly. This list is not exhaustive, but it will help you get a start:

Rechargeable Batteries and Electronic Scrap:

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs:

Motor Oil and Car Batteries:

Ink Cartridges:

Scrap Metal (earn money):

Plastic Bottles and Aluminum Cans (earn points):

General Recycling:

Household Hazardous Wastes:

Certain DFW cities will also conduct collection days in nearby locations where you can bring them all of your household hazardous waste and dispose of it for free.