What You Need to Know About Household Hazardous Waste and Recycling

If you are like most people, the phrase “hazardous waste” brings to mind an image of a large metal drums oozing radioactive materials, glowing sinisterly from the dark corners of an abandoned warehouse. Perhaps you imagine a toxic dump leaking poisons into a nearby water source. Would you be surprised to learn that hazardous waste is more common that you thought? What if you found out that you come into contact with certain types of hazardous waste on a regular basis in your very own home?

Household hazardous waste is defined as anything that is discarded from the home and has at least one of the following characteristics: corrosive, reactive, ignitable or poisonous. For example, paints, certain cleaning products, used motor oil and the like are considered hazardous wastes because they have been shown to cause harm to the environment when discarded into landfills. This in turn may affect public health. This is why understanding which items can and cannot be thrown away with your everyday trash.

State and federal regulations govern the disposal of household hazardous waste. As we continue to produce more refuse as a nation, we must also become increasingly aware of how this affects our environment, and this involves updating the rules and regulations about our trash. For more than a decade, San Diego County has been struggling to meet the goals outlined by the California Integrated Waste Management Board’s recycling program. In 1991 San Diego County adopted a Mandatory Recycling Ordinance (MRO) which applies not only to commercial and industrial sectors, but also among individual residences.

Despite repeated efforts to encourage community members to voluntarily reduce their consumption of non-recyclable materials, San Diego is lagging behind its regional contemporaries, namely Poway. This large-scale failure is based simply on the fact that most consumers don’t know what to do with certain types of materials. The rate of residential recycling has only increased by approximately 20 percent thanks to what is known as “single-stream” recycling. Single stream recycling involves placing all recyclable materials into one collection bin. However, including green waste and things like household hazardous waste is not permitted.

Recent changes to statewide requirements governing disposal and recycling of hazardous waste seeks to address a less hazardous form of household hazardous waste-namely, universal waste. Universal waste includes the following items:

•Fluorescent light bulbs/tubes
•Single use batteries
•Aerosol cans (non-empty)
•Thermometers and thermostats containing mercury (aka “quicksilver”)
•Computer monitors and television sets containing a cathode ray tube (CRT)

California’s Universal Waste Rule became effective in 2002, but much of it was being phased out by 2006. As a result, these above listed common items, which have been managed under less stringent requirements than other forms of hazardous waste, have once again come to the forefront of public environmental policy. However, universal waste or “u-waste” as it is sometimes called, is still subject to specific collection and disposal methods as defined by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

In order that universal waste and household hazardous wastes (HHW) do not find their way into local landfills, consumers are required to separate these materials from the rest of their household trash and recyclable materials. Each type of u-waste should be collected in its own container, preferably a sturdy one. For example, an empty cardboard box is a good size for collecting used batteries or aerosol cans. When fluorescent light bulbs burn out, the old ones can be placed in the cardboard packaging from the new ones to prevent breakage.

The most difficult part of dealing with household hazardous is finding a local collection facility. Such places are often few and far between, and only operate for a short period of time on weekends. Some collection sites, like the City of San Diego Transfer Station near Miramar, require an appointment as well as proof of residency before accepting a person’s recyclable materials. Residents in the South Bay area of San Diego, which includes National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and the unincorporated portions of the county, can bring household hazardous waste to the South Bay Regional HHW Collection Facility located at 1800 Maxwell Road, Chula Vista California. The facility’s hours of operation are Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., excluding holiday weekends.

Although there are a lot of rules about recycling, knowing the rules isn’t nearly as important as following them. Overcoming the urge to simply throw certain materials in the trash is the key to ensuring that the costs of keeping San Diego clean are kept low, and that the environment is protected for years to come.

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