As we have progressed, so has been the complexity of materials and products we have been making in our labs in our factories. And so has increased the amount of complex waste we have been releasing into the planet. While all of this waste is a growing problem and is slowly killing the life on the planet, some of it is really and literally toxic and dangerous and is called Hazardous Waste. Household hazardous waste (HHW) refers to the waste generated in our homes which can be highly toxic/hazardous if used or discarded improperly. These HHW’s cannot be disposed of like normal garbage since they can actually have immediate effects on the environment.
Usually, a product which is hazardous will have labels stating the fact. Any product which has the classic skull and cross-bones label can be considered to be hazardous. Also, any warning labels including warning, caution, toxic, corrosive, reactive and flammable among others can indicate if a product is hazardous.
Types of Hazardous Wastes at Home
Household products which can be classified as hazardous waste include –
- Household chemicals like toilet cleaners, floor cleaners, utensils cleaner, bathroom cleaners, etc.
- Paints and other paint-based products including oil-based and latex based paints.
- LEDs and CFL light bulbs.
- Sharp-edged products like knives, needles, nails, syringes, etc.
- Batteries of all kinds including car batteries.
- Chemicals used in your gardens like commonly used inorganic herbicides, pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers.
- Automotive products like motor oil, brake fluid, petroleum, antifreeze, etc.
Apart from the above-mentioned list, there are many more household wastes which can be considered to be hazardous.
Dangers of Hazardous Waste in the house and ways to handle them
Household hazardous waste can create problems if not disposed of in the correct way or if kept in your house longer than necessary. Hazardous wastes like common household chemicals should not be poured down the drain, wastes like batteries should not be thrown in the thrash and other common household wastes should not be thrown onto the ground since they can cause unforeseen harm.
Household hazardous wastes can harm plants, animals and also humans. Many of these chemicals have been labelled as possible carcinogens. This means that prolonged exposure by involuntary inhalation can cause cancer in humans. Toxins such as heavy metals can contaminate the groundwater, soil and even drinking water so it’s necessary to manage and dispose of such waste efficiently.
In order to manage HHW properly, you can follow these guidelines –
- Read product labels properly in order to correctly identify the products which can be classified as hazardous waste. Also, to prevent accidents at home read instructions on how to properly use, store and dispose of the said products.
- Do not store hazardous products in food containers.
- Never mix leftover hazardous waste like plastic with other products. It might react in an unseemly way.
- Follow the instructions for disposal as supplied by the manufacturer.
- Be careful of even empty containers of hazardous waste since there might be residual chemicals present.
The best way to reduce hazardous waste or any other waste in your households is to buy only what you need, this way you’ll not only save money but also reduce waste. Also, try alternative products which are less toxic.
Reducing Hazardous Waste at Home
Advocate the three R’s of the environment in your life, reduce, reuse and recycle. This principle extends to household hazardous waste. Some of the ways to reduce household hazardous waste include –
- Common household paint and wood-crafting supplies such as paints, glue, wood polish, etc. contain harmful chemicals like phenols, toluene and petroleum-based distillates among others. These chemicals effect on earth very badly. It’s a good idea to cut down on such supplies and use products which are more environmentally friendly.
- Insect repellents used in the household can be replaced by natural alternatives. You can make some of these insect repellents at home too using natural ingredients.
- Garden-based chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and insecticides are usually made from inorganic chemicals and their disposal can be difficult. Instead, use organic, environmentally friendly bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers that are not hazardous.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) containing detergents can seriously harm marine life and it’s a bad idea to exclusively use such detergents for washing clothes. Read detergent labels to choose products which do not contain NPEs, using them will bring down the hazardous waste pumped into our oceans. You can also switch to eco-friendly laundry detergents which are great for the planet and for you and your family.
- Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) have mercury in them so it’s a really bad idea to toss them in the garbage. Recycling CFLs will help reduce hazardous waste.
- Common household batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium. Large batteries such as car batteries have acid. Throwing away either of these batteries as thrash is unsafe. If these batteries are kept around long enough or even if they are incinerated in landfills they will release harmful chemicals into the environment. Recycle your dead batteries instead of simply throwing them away or keeping them around for long.
- Household cleaners contain harmful chemicals like sulfuric acid and potassium hydroxide. These are corrosive chemicals and while they may help with cleaning they are hazardous chemicals which can harm the environment. Switch to natural, non-toxic and environmentally friendly alternatives to clean your house.
- Know what you’re buying. Labels which specify caution, corrosive, toxic, flammable and reactive usually indicate products which are hazardous. Avoid buying such products if possible.
- The most important thing to keep in mind is to only buy products when you need them. This will undoubtedly help reduce all kinds of waste.
Humans are producing a tremendous amount of waste each day. We need to understand the consequences of this as all the waste is going to stay with us. Our lifestyles are extremely unsustainable and have to be reconsidered for a better, greener future. The first step towards a better future can be reducing the amount of waste we produce and proper waste management.