Diane Blum

Freelance Writer

"Household Hazards"
posted in The Evergreen Times
Let’s Get Rid of Hazardous Waste!

I just made an appointment, as I do every few years, with the County of Santa Clara Household Hazardous Waste Program. It is so easy to do, and enables residents to get rid of many harmful items stored around the house while protecting the environment at the same time. Did you know that the average home can have as much as 100 pounds of environmentally harmful products in the garage, laundry room and other storage areas?
What, you say? What could I have around my house that is harmful to my family or the environment? Plenty! I just know that most of you have old paint, dead batteries, gardening supplies, pesticides, old pool chemicals, fluorescent bulbs, used motor oil, dozens of cleaning chemicals and even unused prescriptions! All of these items can be bad for the environment if disposed of improperly and can also be toxic to you. Having them stored indefinitely in your home can also cause a hazardous situation in an earthquake. Chemicals can fall out of high cabinets and mix together causing a toxic situation; additionally, over time bottles can seep corrosive chemicals which can do damage to surrounding areas as well as be unhealthy to those who come in contact with it.
Take a look around and start jotting notes on what you have in your home. First, gather up the items that you have stored for some imaginary future use, like the cans of paint that have been in your garage for 7 years. At the same time collect all of the aging pesticides, poisons, gardening chemicals and other such items that you are unlikely to ever use. Look around for cleaning chemicals you may have used once and pushed to the back of the cabinet. Many items have expiration dates, but most are not meant to store for years and years. All of these can be disposed of via the county’s Household Hazardous Waste Program, for free.
You do need to make an appointment, by going online or calling them at 408-299-7300. It is a great service. They give you a time slot, and re-confirm it by email. You do have to follow their rules about what they will take, how much of it they will take and how it must be stored: for example, all items must be in their original container with their original labels.
The day of your appointment you drive up, pop the trunk and they take the materials out and either recycle or dispose of them in as an “environmentally friendly” way as possible.
On the Household Hazardous Waste Program’s website, they also have links to stores and companies who will take most any hazardous material that you might have around your home. Most are free programs. Things like:
• Fluorescent bulbs, which contain mercury

• Fever thermometers, which also contain mercury (by the way, a broken thermometer can be dangerous…never touch the mercury, never put cleaner on it or put it down a drain…see the program’s website for special handling instructions should you have a mercury spill issue)

• Household batteries: did you know that we will purchase 3 billion household batteries this year? Many people do not think to recycle their everyday batteries and throw them in the trash. Dispose of them correctly and help the environment. Better yet, use rechargeable batteries (but when those eventually die, they still need correct disposal through this program).

• Car batteries: 99 million of these sold last year…most people do recycle these

• Used motor oil and filters; tires; antifreeze

• Electronic waste

• Propane tanks

• Medical wastes (syringes, etc) requiring special biohazard handling

• Unused/expired prescriptions and medicine (these should not be flushed down the toilet contrary to popular practice!)

• Expired fire extinguishers and smoke detectors
After identifying the items you can get rid of, also check around and make sure the items you are keeping are safety contained and stored. You should always store household chemicals in their original container with the original label, and you should never mix “leftovers!” One pesticide is not necessarily ok to mix with another pesticide, and you can create a toxic reaction. Also, be safe when you store common chemicals by separating known issues such as bleach and ammonia, as well as earthquake strapping high cabinets and/or storing chemicals where they won’t be as likely to spill in an earthquake (like in a low child-proof cabinet).
So keep your home safe and help the environment. It isn’t that hard to do and can really add up if we all keep it in mind.
Let's get creative!