We all have them: The old can of paint tucked on a shelf in the basement. Or the used batteries piling up in a drawer. Or maybe some pesticides shoved in a corner of the shed in the backyard.
These may seem like ordinary household items, but they actually can pose a serious threat to human health and the environment if they aren’t disposed of properly.
In fact, these items and others fall under the category of hazardous household waste. Pouring them down the drain, into storm sewers, on the ground or even just putting them out with the regular trash can create “significant” hazards, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
It is illegal to open dump or open burn in Indiana, and all Hoosiers are responsible for properly disposing of their solid waste — including their hazardous household items.
Here’s what you need to know about how to identify hazardous household waste, how to properly dispose of it and tips for managing the risk.
What is hazardous household waste?
The label usually gives a hazardous product away. Look for the words “danger,” “warning,” or “caution” somewhere in the labeling. Danger is for products that are the most hazardous while warning or caution signify those that are less hazardous.
All hazardous products have at least one of the following qualities: It is toxic, flammable, corrosive or reactive. Toxic materials are those that can be poisonous or cause long-term illness, flammable products can burn easily, corrosive ones can eat through other materials, and reactive can explode when exposed to the right trigger such as heat, air or water.
What are examples of hazardous household items?
Many common household items are hazardous. They are used in cleaning, automobile maintenance, lawn and garden care, home improvement projects, as well as a variety of other tasks.
One example of a hazardous product is those that contain mercury, such as thermometers, fluorescent lights or the weights in old grandfather clocks. Also on the list is gasoline, which IDEM said is “one of the most dangerous substances found around the home” because it is extremely toxic and highly flammable.
While on the topic of cars, used motor oil, oil filters and antifreeze are also considered a hazardous household item. As are batteries or electronics such as computers, monitors, printers, televisions and audio equipment.
Paint or paint-related products such as stains and varnish can also be dangerous. One of the last main categories of common hazardous household items are pesticides or herbicides, which are meant to destroy pests but can be harmful to humans and animals in the process.
How do I not dispose of these items?
It is key to dispose of these items properly. But just as important is how not to dispose of them.
Do not pour these items down the drain, into the sewer on your street corner or even just on the ground in your backyard. IDEM said that even putting these items in your regular garbage could create serious hazards for the environment or potentially expose humans and wildlife to toxic materials.
If that wasn’t enough, it is illegal to open dump in Indiana, according to IDEM.
How do I dispose of these items?
Now that you know what not to do, the rest is easy, relatively speaking. There are various household hazardous waste collection programs, such as drop-off sites, across the state. These are places where hazardous items can be managed, disposed of or potentially even recycled or reused.
Citizens can contact their local solid waste management district or the local government agency to find where those sites are. Marion County does not have a district, so residents can find drop-off sites at Indy.gov.
Some products — such as pesticides, paint or used motor oil — can also be recycled. Check if any of your neighbors need pesticides for their lawn, if the local school needs paint for theater productions, or if a nearby auto center might accept the motor oil.
How do I eliminate potential risk?
To minimize potential risk from hazardous household items, there are a few steps that Hoosiers can take. The best step to managing it is to not buy it in the first place, IDEM said, and instead using a more natural option or buying the least amount of the hazardous product as possible.
“Buying in large quantities is not a bargain if half of it has to be discarded,” IDEM said.
The agency also recommends trying to reduce the need for garden and yard pesticides. That can be done through adding compost to build healthy soil and buying native plants that grow well in Indiana’s climate.
Lastly, consider recycling and sharing these materials where possible so there’s no need for disposal in the first place.
Who do I contact for more information?
If you need more information on what items should be disposed and how to safely do so, you can contact IDEM or your local solid waste management district. You can find the contact information for your district on the website for the Association of Solid Waste Management Districts.
Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.
IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.