By Jeffrey Bridgman
Danger, warning, corrosive, flammable, irritant, hazardous, poison, explosive, harmful, and yet, right under your sink or in your garage. You’d be surprised how many household items have those words on them. From leftover paint to used cooking oil, and all kinds of batteries in between, there is just a whole lot of trash you can’t throw in the can. Okay, you can, but it’s neither legal, ethical nor moral to do so if you know to do otherwise. You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to do right by your garbage. Here are some common sense tips that can keep the harmful impact of our modern chemistry at a minimum.
Think twice before you buy.
Maybe you don’t really need a high-powered chemical; can you get the job done with a little more elbow grease? Or maybe a less “powerful” product, like soap or laundry detergent? If the answer is no, purchase the smallest amount of product that will do the job. Here’s one time when paying for 12 ounces and getting 16 is not a great idea… if you only need two ounces. Also check to see if there is a formula that is less toxic. Lots of companies are becoming environmentally responsible and cutting down or altogether out on their use of the worst still-legal pollutants.
Make it good to the last drop.
If you do buy, making sure you use all the product before throwing it away helps keep harmful ingredients away from the environment. Give it some thought; it’s not the packaging that’s a hazmat, it’s what’s inside. The residue of harmful chemicals won’t do as much harm as a partial or full bottle would. If you find yourself stuck with a product you really only needed for one occasion, try taking it to church to give away, offering it to a neighbor, or if it’s not prohibited by law in your state, selling it at a garage sale for a quarter.
Get ready to hurl.
There are some things we can do to prepare chemicals for disposal. For example, certain glues and paints become safe if you let them dry out first. Examine labels for how to properly dispose of the product. It’s a boring read, but it’s the responsible thing to do. Some items can be returned to the store when you are done. For example, when you buy a new car battery, they normally recycle the old one for you. And did you know that you can take old rechargeable batteries to Radio Shack, or old printer cartridges to Staples? Find a recycling center and inquire if they have a household hazardous waste (HHW) disposal day. A student organization I’m in hosts an electronic waste disposal day twice a year on our campus. Your area may have similar events. Log on to Earth911.com, type in what you’d like to recycle, and your ZIP code to find a nearby location. For batteries and cell phones, check out www.call2recycle.org. Just enter your ZIP code to find a nearby recycling location.
The City of Phoenix has an excellent guide on how to properly dispose of various household products, explanations of why they are dangerous, and recommendations of nontoxic alternatives. And what about alternatives? Grandparents can serve as an excellent resource for this sort of thing. Ask them what they used before modern cleaning products. You can clean a lot with simple solutions using cheap and readily available ingredients like baking soda, salt, vinegar and borax (yes, you can buy borax at the grocery store!). The Sierra Club has a downloadable pamphlet with some simple recipes and uses.