When you think of hazardous waste you probably think of a pile of green chemicals oozing smelly colourful steam Scooby-Doo style. Or perhaps you think of driving behind a massive oil tank truck while you’re speeding down the Trans-Canada.
Regardless of what comes to mind, chances are it isn’t the beauty products on the shelf or the cleaning materials you have stashed under the sink. But more hazardous chemicals lurk around our homes than we’d like to think about.
What is household hazardous waste?
Household hazardous waste products are everyday items kicking around your home that are classified as dangerous because they meet one (or more) of the following four criteria, they are:
- Corrosive: meaning the product damages surfaces, skin, and other human tissue — you do not want to get this on yourself.
- Flammable: the material and/or fumes can burn easily.
- Toxic/poison: inhaling, ingesting, or otherwise coming into contact with this material can cause major health issues.
- Reactive/explosive: when mixed with other chemicals or when placed under pressure and heat these products react violently.
Items are classified dangerous because they pose a threat to human health and/or our natural resources, including things like our drinking water and food sources, when disposed of incorrectly.
As you can imagine, because of this it’s important that they don’t end up in the regular old trash or recycling. These materials also should not be poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet — these eventually lead to natural water, which means that dangerous materials could make their way into our rivers or lakes.
Not all hazardous materials are the same. While they all pose a danger, it’s not necessarily equal, nor can they all be treated the same way.
To help determine what’s what, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act set out nine different classifications of hazardous materials, including:
Explosives, regulated by the Explosives Act
Nitroglycerin or trinitrotoluene (TNT)
Gases, sub-classified as flammable, poisonous, and non-flammable/non-poisonous
Propane (flammable) or Carbon Monoxide (poisonous)
Paint or polishes
Flammable solids, substances that could spontaneously combust, and water-reactive substances
Potassium (flammable solid) or alkali metals
Oxidizing substances and organic peroxides
Toxic and infectious substances
Radioactive materials, regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Plutonium or radium
Sulfuric acid or lye
Miscellaneous products, substances, or organisms
Dry ice or lithium ion batteries
Waste around your home
Let’s be honest, you probably don’t have a stick of TNT lying around in your garage (hopefully, anyway) but chances are you have a few hazardous materials on hand that you didn’t realize.
These items can be sneaky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Sure, they have symbols on them (though, look at the back of a nail polish bottle — those things are tiny!) but it’s easy to miss them on things that we use daily like cooking oil or perfume.
With that in mind, it helps to know that some of the most common household items include:
- Motor oil
- Propane cylinders
- Aerosol Cans
- Fluorescent light bulbs and tubes
- Pesticides and fertilizers
- Prescription drugs
- Cleaning products
This is just the tip of the iceberg though. Take a look around your home and see what else you can find that needs to be disposed of incorrectly — and pull that half-full bottle of nail polish remover out of the trash.
What to do with hazardous waste
Harmful chemicals that aren’t disposed of properly can contaminate our land and water, and can ultimately lead to long-term health issues for those that handle it (yourself included). Not to mention they can damage both your home sewer and the city at large (talk about pricey).
That means it’s important to dispose of them correctly.
The thing is, not all jurisdictions have the same procedures and protocols. For example, in Alberta community-organized round-ups take place and the collected material makes its way to Swan Hills Treatment Centre. However, in Winnipeg, materials need to be dropped off at 4R Winnipeg Depot or Waste Wise Eco Depot.
To be sure, you should use the GarbageDay WhichBin tool that tells you how to sort your household waste items based on your specific municipality guidelines.
So, whatever your city’s protocol is, it’s important to know what it is and get rid of your hazardous waste in a responsible manner. We can all make a few small steps towards making the world a better place!