Thursday, April 11, 2013

Household Hazardous Waste: What to Know & Where to Go

Jessica S. Herwick
With April just around the corner and Daylight Savings giving us our extra hours of sunshine back, it’s time to start thinking about spring… and spring cleaning!  Many of the products you will use to scrub, sanitize, wax, dust and paint your walls will certainly clean your home, but in the long run, they may be polluting the environment, our water sources, and even our gardens!  

We buy certain cleaning products, and use them, because they work. But, they work because there is a formula of chemicals and other materials that are designed to kill germs… and sometimes those formulas are toxic to more than just dust bunnies.  Products of this nature are considered Household Hazardous Waste, and should be stored and disposed of properly. Because federal law does not take responsibility for the disposal of HHW, many communities have collection programs for HHW to reduce the potential harm posed by these chemicals. EPA encourages participation in these HHW collection programs.  Read on to learn more about how identify HHW in your home, and where to go in and around Philadelphia to properly dispose of your HHW.

What to Know…
 According to the EPA, Household Hazardous Wastes includes any materials in your home that are or may be hazardous when not disposed of properly, but are not regulated as hazardous waste under federal and state laws. So basically, plain-old household waste is upgraded and considered Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) when it is bought over-the-counter and contains one or more of the following four characteristics:

(may destroy and damage other substances with which it comes into contact, usually through the gradual destruction of material, usually metals, by chemical reaction with its environment)

(harmful when ingested.  may become reactive when exposed to other chemicals)

(may catch fire, explode, burn or ignite when exposed to certain temperatures or other chemicals)

(inherently unstable chemicals that are susceptible to rapid decomposition as well as chemicals which, under specific conditions, can react alone, or with other substances in a violent uncontrolled manner, liberating heat, toxic gases, or leading to an explosion) 

This means paints, cleaners, motor oils, batteries, light bulbs, pesticides, and even old televisions, computers and electronics, fall into one or more of those categories.  All of these products contain chemicals or other elements that are harmful to humans, animals or the environment.  Usually these products come with warnings on their labels, which is your first clue as you learn to identify what is HHW and what can safely go in the trash can.  See the website links below to read more about what the EPA and the Cooperative Extension consider HHW and suggestions on how to store and dispose of products: 

Breaks down the steps to identify Household Hazardous Waste and dispose of it properly.            

Penn State Cooperative Extension  
Free Penn State publication online entitled Household Hazardous Products and Hazardous Waste: A Summary for Consumers. 
This is a well-organized wealth of information that I found easy to read and extremely helpful in answering many of my own questions about HHW.  It also had a superb section about the choices we make in cleaning products, with a list of safe household solutions that not only work, but are safer for our families and our environment (and much cheaper solutions than the chemical based cleaning products on the market!)

Some medications are considered HHW! 
For an updated list of prescription drugs which can be safely flushed please visit the USFDA web site  or contact the USFDA at 1-888-463-6332.

What to Do…
So what should you do with this stuff?  There can be a lot of confusion about how to properly dispose of these household items.  Many people think it’s okay to rinse empty containers out in the sink or dump outdated liquids down the commode.  Some people set old cans of motor oil in the back yard, or toss batteries and old televisions out with the garbage.  Although federal law permits us to throw many of these items in the trash, and no one can stop you from pouring your bucket of cleaner onto the street and into the city drain system, the EPA (and millions of citizens, scientists and tree-lovers agree) these are not the safest way to dispose of your household trash.

Indirectly, these chemicals and materials can pollute the environment, slip into sewer systems and even into our drinking water when not disposed of properly.  Directly, certain types of HHW have the potential to contaminate wastewater treatment systems, contaminate septic tanks, and even cause physical injury to sanitation workers who come into contact with this sort of pollution. 

The EPA recommends:
The EPA provides a variety of information, research, instructions and specifics on how to safely store and properly dispose of HHW for the benefit of your family, your community and our environment.  They recommend finding a drop-off program, event, or center nearest to your community and participating in the national efforts to reduce the potential damage HHW can have on our environment.

Where to Go…
Along with many other cities, towns and communities, Philadelphia is raising awareness and doing its part by continuing their Household Hazardous Waste Drop-off Events.  This is by far the easiest – and safest - way to properly dispose of your HHW.  All you have to do is show up!  The first of 7 scheduled events is April 20th at the Streets Department’s Training Center.  You can clear out the hazards in your house or garage between 9am and 3pm on this day.  Events are scheduled for May through November in varying locations around the city.  Bring your household hazardous items and the staff at each event will take care of the rest for you.
** Be sure to read product labels for disposal directions to reduce the risk of products exploding, igniting, leaking, mixing with other chemicals, or posing other hazards on the way to a disposal facility. Even empty containers of HHW can pose hazards because of the residual chemicals that might remain! **
The Master Gardeners and the Philadelphia Cooperative Extension are doing their part to support many of these events by donating their time to attend the drop-offs and distribute information to participants.  Master Gardeners interested in donating their time can get more information on the MG volunteer webpage.

Scheduled HHW Drop Off Events for 2013:
9am to 3pm

April 20                       Streets Department’s Training Center (State Road)
May 18                        1st District Highway Yard (Parkside Ave)
June 15                        Northwest Transfer Station (Domino Ln. & Umbria S., Roxborough)
July 18                         Street’s Department’s Training Center (State Road)
September 21               3rd District Highway Yard (22nd & York St.)
October 26                   Streets Department Facility (S. 63rd St.)
November 2                 Streets Department Northeast Facility (Delaware Ave.)

8am – 6pm Monday through Saturday
Accepts Only Computer Equipment and Televisions

Citizen Drop-Off Center
Domino Lane and Umbria Street, Roxborough
Open Monday - Saturday 8am to 6pm 215-685-2501 ext. 02

Citizen Drop-Off Center
State Road & Asburner Street
Open Monday - Saturday 8am to 6pm 215-685-8072 ext. 73

Citizen Drop-Off Center
3033 South 63rd Street – Northwest of Passyunk Avenue
Open Monday - Saturday 8am to 6pm 215-685-4290 ext. 01

(In partnership with eCovanta)
Residents may drop off Computers and Televisions on the 2nd Saturday of each month from 10am to 2pm at the Ezekiel Baptist Church, 5701 Grays Avenue.

Don’t see your community on the lists above?  
Check the PADEP!
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Webpage listing HHW collection programs by county:

In Case You Didn't Already Know!

Here are some cool, interesting facts to share with your neighbors when you tell them about the local drop off events and help motivate your community to think differently about HHW.

• Recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,657 American homes in a year.

• Recycling one million cell phones allows 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium to be recovered.

• The average American home has as much as 100 pounds of hazardous materials in it, and the EPA estimates that we generate as much as 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste each year.

Based on national data from collection programs, a typical breakdown of HHW is:
• 50% paints and paint products
• 20% used motor oil
• 20% solvents, pesticides and herbicides
• 10% batteries, unidentified materials and other miscellaneous items, such as old chemistry sets, photographic materials, and fiberglass epoxy.

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