There are the usual things you think of as hazardous materials (Hazmat), like motor oil and batteries, but beyond those there is an entire list of other things that are hazardous and should be disposed of properly. What can be perplexing is the actual identifying of Hazmat, and the proper disposal methods.
What Is Hazardous?
Go to any hardware or grocery store and there are aisles full of hazardous materials -- the cleaning aisle is one. There are cleaners for everything from your floors to your ceilings. Anything marked with the words acid, flammable, caustic, poison, caution, toxic, danger or warning are potentially hazardous and require special handling. Take a look at the products in your home. You'll find that many of them have these warning labels.
There are also items in your food cabinet that aren’t hazardous to eat, but can be considered hazardous to the environment. These too require special disposal practices. Cooking oil or any cooking grease should never be poured down a drain or thrown in the trash. Just to give you an example of its effects, I once accidentally spilled liquefied grease while I was cleaning the grill -- it killed the grass and nothing would grow there for years.
Other things in your house that are hazardous include (but aren’t limited to) bleach, batteries, charcoal, glue, hair spray, shampoo, fluorescent light bulbs, most paints, paint thinners, and ink or toner cartridges.
Where Can You Take Hazmat?
Many communities offer a free, once-a-year Hazmat disposal collection site. There is usually a year-round collection area as well, but they often come with a charge. Many businesses offer free drop-off areas in their stores for certain items. For example, Home Depot will take compact florescent bulbs, lawn mower batteries and rechargeable batteries from power tools. Office Max and Office Depot will take toner and ink cartridges. Auto Zone will take your used motor oil and car batteries.
If you don’t know if something is Hazmat, just give your fire department a call. They can tell you if it is and where you can safely dispose of it.
What Can You Do to Limit Your Hazmat?
Buy only what you think you will need. Even though small containers may cost more per ounce, they will save you the hassle of disposing the leftovers, or leaving them to sit unused on a shelf.
Use safe alternatives, if possible. Vinegar is a natural antibacterial, so I use it to wash my floors and countertops. Mix a gallon of water with a cup of vinegar and your floors and countertops will shine. If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, there is a way around that, too. Put orange peels in a mason jar, fill the jar with vinegar and let it sit for two weeks. Then pour the liquid in a spray bottle and use it anywhere around the house. The orange peel is a natural grease-cutting agent. (An added benefit is it is also a bug repellent -- perfect for the kitchen.) Using these natural alternatives will help to cut down on your hazardous material use, and is healthier for your home and loved ones.
Other Household Items That Need Special Care
Medications should not be flushed down the drain or thrown in the trash. Most communities offer a medicine collection day once a year.
Any electronics including refrigerators, freezers, televisions, computers and printers have special guidelines for disposal. Some energy companies will take your old appliances (some will even give you cash) just to get the energy hogs out of circulation. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a place that will take the other items for free. The last time I took in a television, it cost me five bucks just for them to take it off my hands.
It's amazing how many things in a normal house are Hazmat. A simple way to define Hazmat would be anything found in your home, garage, basement or yard that could be harmful to you or your environment when inappropriately managed. So, be good to yourself and your environment. Read all labels, store and/or dispose of things properly, and you and this earth may be around much longer.