We all know how and where we are supposed to dispose of plastic water bottles, cardboard boxes, and glass jars. But what about pesticides, bleach, and glue bottles? What do people do with unused oils, antifreeze, laptop computers, and batteries? These items are considered household hazardous waste, products that if not disposed of properly could cause harm to residents, pets, drinking water, and the environment. In general, hazardous waste falls into one of the following categories; flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic. There is often little direction on how or where to properly dispose of such materials, oftentimes leading to them to be tossed into the regular garbage. The United States generates 251 million tons of trash every year and over 50% of that trash ends up in landfills, where there is a greater risk to groundwater contamination.
Imagine using your kitchen’s trash can as a filter. At the top is clean running water and below is a cup for collecting your drinking water. When the clean water is poured over the materials in your garbage can, the water that falls through to your drinking cup is a lot different than what it started from. This makes you think a lot harder about the types of things you are throwing away. Would you want your water to rush over dirty paint cans or weed killer? What about a plethora of smashed and broken light bulbs? As rainwater falls onto these organic and inorganic materials, toxic chemicals can then leach into surrounding groundwaters. These toxic items can be recycled and disposed of properly without ending up in our landfills – it just takes a little more research to find out where.
Every year the Ionia Conservation District in Ionia, Michigan hosts four resource recovery collections. From 8 am-noon on scheduled Saturdays, residents are welcome to bring their unwanted or used printer cartridges, motor oil, antifreeze, house cleaners, etc. and have peace of mind that they will not end up in their groundwater. Combined populations of the three cities where resource recovery is held is just under 21,000. Compare that to the United States’ total population of roughly 327 million people, and Ionia Conservation District’s recycling program reaches about 0.006 percent of the country’s population. So how much waste do they really collect?
This spring the conservation district collected and properly disposed of over 12,000 pounds of waste! This doesn’t include oil and electronics – which are weighed out separately. When arriving at the hazardous waste collection, drivers are asked to stay in their cars and are waited on one at a time. This ensures the safety of residents as some items must be handled with the utmost care. Items are then sorted into categories based on their methods of disposal. Things like paint and oil are bulked together on-site to conserve space. Pesticide and herbicide containers are also grouped together and secured into large storage drums that will be loaded onto a moving truck. There are even separate buckets for lightbulbs and batteries. All of these items will go to a treatment facility to be neutralized, refined, reclaimed, or incinerated. While most products are easily identifiable, sometimes material will be dropped off without a label or not in its original container. In this case, employees conduct basic chemistry tests to narrow down the possibilities. These include sniff tests, identifying physical color and texture, or pH strip tests.
The conservation district even holds exclusive collections specifically tailored for farmers and agricultural producers, who oftentimes use more pesticide and herbicide than the average homeowner. Resource recovery is a completely free and voluntary program that aims to minimize the possible environmental impacts of chemicals that are no longer usable. One of the more unsettling materials that Ionia received this spring was a one-pound canister of DDT in powder form. DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is a crystalline chemical originally developed as an insecticide and used greatly during WWII. However, in 1972 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned DDT in the United States due to its adverse environmental effects and human health risks. Yet almost 50 years later we are still finding it in rusted out cans and containers.
Because of this, Ionia Conservation District urges homeowners and farmers alike to inventory their garages, sheds, and attics and take a good look at what possible hazardous material they might have laying around. These things not only pose a threat to our fresh water, but also to pets and children. As a general rule of thumb, all chemical bottles should be triple rinsed before being recycled. This ensures that all the remaining chemical is being used up and will not end up anywhere else besides its intended place. While not the most glamorous or adventurous of conservation duties, hazardous waste collection is crucial in cleaning up our planet and maintaining safe drinking water. If you are located in the United States and interested in finding a hazardous waste collection or handling facility near you, check the EPA’s website at: https://www.epa.gov/hwpermitting/how-do-i-find-hazardous-waste-management-facilities-my-area
How do you dispose of cleaning agents and chemicals that are used in your home?
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