Many common products we use in our homes or at work contain hazardous materials, some of which can be harmful to human health or the environment. When household products which are harmful to humans or the environment are discarded, they are classified as "household hazardous waste" or HHW. In California, it is illegal to dispose of HHW in the trash, down the drain, or by abandonment.
The US Environmental Protection Agency initially classified hazardous waste to control what is permissible to be disposed of in early landfills which were not robust and could not contain all the chemicals that were regularly dumped in them. California EPA built on the US EPA list and added more chemicals considered hazardous waste.
Alameda County has a program, paid for by an assessment to property taxes, that will take HHW from county residents for free. Please go to www.stopwaste.org for hours of operation and materials they accept and not accept.
To help you identify some of the harmful effects of common household products, please see the extensive list in the NIH database: http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/.
In general, wastes that are harmful are classified into a few categories called characteristics of hazardous wastes. Many products exhibit more than one characteristic of hazardous waste.
Manufacturers are required to provide users of their products with Safety Data Sheets (SDS) that list chemicals (over 1%) and outline the hazards of the products they manufacture or distribute. The SDS is an essential document to review when determining what the hazards of any product in the home. The label on the product also has a summary of the SDS information. You are encouraged to review he SDS on the manufacturer's web pages.
Hazardous Waste Characteristics and Common Household Products
Toxic: Many products are toxic to humans and the environment in high concentrations and sufficiently large doses. Some chemicals like copper is toxic to aquatic organisms but not to humans. Latex paints may have heavy metal pigments which are toxic, such as cadmium or nickel. Most pesticides and herbicides are toxic to humans and the environment. Fluorescent bulbs contain toxic mercury and phosphorous. Batteries can contain either corrosive (acid or alkaline) or toxic components (cadmium or lithium) or reactive components (lithium).
Flammable: Some materials will ignite at room temperature with a spark. Such wastes are considered hazardous for flammability. These include gasoline, propane, many undiluted spirits, solvents and de-greasers. Flammable HHW can cause fires at home if spilled and can also exhibit some characteristics of toxicity. Flammable products in the home can pose fire hazards if they leak or are spilled in earthquakes.
Corrosive: Batteries, acid solutions, lime (or lye), etc can be corrosive and harmful to both humans and the environment. Many batteries can also be reactive (lithium), and toxic (cadmium).
Reactive: Lithium batteries, concentrated acid (sulfuric). Reactive products must be segregated from other products. Lithium batteries must be taped prior to disposal so they do not react with other batteries. Sulfuric acid etch products must be separated from organic materials.
Drugs: Some drugs can be hazardous waste but most are not. The harm of drugs are by accidental use or misuse of the drugs. Some drugs classified as controlled substances (may create dependence) are hard to dispose of, but there are locations that accept them for proper disposal. Go to http://www.stopwaste.org/recycling/residents/household-hazardous-waste/medicine to find local disposal sites near you. In addition, some communities have drug take back days where you can also dispose of controlled substances.
Sharps: Needles and syringes used to inject drugs; the needles can cause injuries and transmit diseases, so they must be disposed of in special containers. Visit www.stopwaste.org for more information.
The Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste Program currently operates three drop-off facilities for household hazardous waste. The facilities, located in Hayward, Livermore and Oakland, are free to all Alameda County residents on a limited drop-in and/or appointment basis.
- Oakland Facility: 2100 East 7th Street, Oakland
- Hayward Facility: 2091 West Winton Avenue, Hayward
- Livermore Facility: 5584 La Ribera Street, Livermore
Please visit www.stopwaste.org or call them at 1-800-606-6606 for hours of operation, proper handling procedures, and specific household hazardous waste they will accept.
Other facilities in or near Berkeley may accept certain types of HHW. This table highlights a few:
For tips on reducing household hazardous waste, visit the U.S. EPA at http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-waste-what-you-can-do.
For environmentally friendly household products, visit the U.S. EPA at http://www.epa.gov/dfe/ and Alameda County at http://www.stopwaste.org/home/index.asp?page=585.
For household hazardous waste recycling options outside of Berkeley, visit http://recyclewhere.org/.
Consequences of Improper Handling and Disposal
Household hazardous waste can have several adverse health effects. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) explain why household waste is sometimes hazardous here: http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/
It is important to properly handle and dispose household hazardous waste as they can pose a threat to animals and the environment.
DO NOT throw HHW in the sink or toilet. Doing so brings HHW to septic tanks and/or sewage treatment facilities. This causes contamination that is detrimental to their operation and costly to correct.
DO NOT throw HHW in the trash. Trash goes to a transfer station where HHW may harm sanitation workers and staff who sift through garbage for recycling. Additionally, HHW in trash may ultimately reach a landfill, resulting in landfill contamination with hazardous waste. In rare cases, the landfill may not have a liquid collection liner which may result in groundwater pollution.
DO NOT throw HHW into the street or storm drain. Storm drains flow directly to the creeks and Bay without treatment. Throwing HHW into the street would cause pollution of our aquatic resources.
DO NOT leave HHW around your home. HHW can be harmful to children and pets.