What is Household Hazardous Waste

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

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

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