Did you know that the leftover antibiotics and other meds in your bathroom cabinet are considered hazardous household waste? Yep. And if the bug spray you bought for the lawn — or even for your kids or pets — has chemicals in it, then that bug spray is also considered hazardous waste.
In fact, common household cleaners that contain chemicals are also considered hazardous waste as well. Yep, those regular household cleaners that we buy at the supermarket and spray around the house to keep our families healthy? Most are toxic and you can’t just toss them into the garbage if you want to get rid of them (as you transition to natural cleaners, for example).
In general, any product that contains poisonous, flammable, chemically reactive or corrosive ingredients is considered hazardous household waste. That means that we can’t just flush old meds down the toilet or toss half-empty bottles of bleach into the garbage.
Let’s talk about how to properly dispose of these common household items.
Why are these common items considered “hazardous”?
I never gave this much thought until doing a bit of research for this article. But it turns out that disposing of hazardous household waste improperly can contaminate our water supply, cause fires, harm sanitation workers, damage plants, and kill wildlife. (Yikes!)
The proper way to dispose of it is to simply drop it off at a local collection center or safely store it until the next community pick-up day. You should be able to find a nearby collection center easily with a quick Google search or with Earth911’s recycling database.
Don’t fret, if you don’t have a hazardous waste center nearby.
As luck would have it, many hardware stores, home goods retailers, and office supply stores often provide collection boxes at the entrance for common hazardous household items. Auto retailers and service centers accept boat and car batteries for recycling. Some will even pay you for your hazardous waste, if they can recycle and resell it.
What should (or should not) be treated as hazardous waste?
If you’re not sure if something is considered hazardous, check the label for disposal instructions. If the label is unreadable, it is best to err on the side of caution and treat it as hazardous.
Here are a few tips on what must — or must not — be treated as hazardous waste.
DO Treat As Hazardous Waste
Bring the following items to a hazardous waste collection facility for disposal.
- Antibiotics and old meds
- Bug spray, home & garden pesticides
- Old cleaning supplies
- Fluorescent lights, ultraviolet lamps, neon lights, metal halide lights, HID lights
- Ballasts that hold fluorescent tubes
- Rechargeable batteries (found in cell phones, laptops, power tools & toys)
- Boat & car batteries
- Used car oil
- Most printer ink
- Old electronics (components often contain mercury & other hazardous materials)
- Paints and solvents
DO NOT Treat As Hazardous Waste
You can discard the following items with your regular household trash.
- Regular incandescent bulbs and halogen lamps
- LED lights
- Single-use alkaline batteries (found in flashlights & remote controls)
- Single-use lithium batteries (found in watches & hearing aides)
Good to know
- Although regular incandescent and halogen light bulbs are encased in glass, they cannot be recycled. Wrap broken or unbroken bulbs in paper to protect sanitation workers before discarding.
- LED lights contain hazardous materials, but are not yet accepted at most waste facilities. Check Earth911’s recycling database to see if they’re accepted at yours.
- Many hazardous waste programs that do not collect LEDs will make an exception for Christmas tree lights.
- Never dispose of several alkaline or lithium batteries at once, because seemingly dead batteries can come alive and chemically react with each other when they touch.
- Alkaline and lithium batteries can be recycled into new items. Although uncommon, some private or municipal recycling centers do take them. Check Earth911’s locator before sending batteries to the landfill.
- Most large hardware stores and home good retailers offer free CFL (fluorescent light) recycling.
- Flushing old paint, solvents and other hazardous waste down the sink or toilet can cause serious damage to pipes and septic systems. Letting the hazardous waste facility handle them instead, can save you oodles in home repairs later on.
- Proper disposal of flammable or corrosive items reduces the risk of harming your family and pets, sanitation workers, wildlife and the environment.