Hazardous waste: Proper disposal matters


Always consider the best way to dispose of any given household waste.


What’s out of sight is frequently out of mind, including that bucket full of household cleaners in the garage or under the sink. You use them, and then you are faced with the prospect of disposing of them.

While it might be tempting to just throw these types of cleaners in the trash – don’t.

Why? Some of these cleaners are considered Hazardous Household Waste by the Environmental Protection Agency. These include products that can catch fire, react or explode, or become corrosive or toxic.

Improper disposal of HHW may include pouring cleaners down the drain, on the ground or in storm sewers or discarding with regular trash. When toxic chemicals are poured into drains, those chemicals could end up in a local water source.

A key question to ask is: “How do I best safely dispose of chemicals?”

First, always follow local, state and federal laws and the disposal recommendations on the product label. The label will list special product characteristics – for example, whether it is flammable.

Second, does the product contain solvents? A household product contains solvents if the words flammable, combustible, danger, caution or warning appear. Also, look for ingredients such as petroleum distillates or aromatic hydrocarbons. If you see those words, you cannot legally dispose of the cleaner down the drain or in the trash.

As a general rule, how you use the product is how you dispose. Water soluble household cleaning products are not considered HHW because they can go down the drain or in the trash.

In addition to the product, also consider the container. Plastic bottles and aerosol cans can usually be recycled when empty.

If in doubt, call the manufacturer’s toll-free number for disposal suggestions.


Generally, these liquid or powder-based substances can go in the trash:

  • Stain removers and fabric softeners
  • Rinse agents
  • All-purpose cleaners and bathroom cleaners/disinfectants
  • Carpet and upholstery cleaners
  • Drain openers
  • Furniture cleaners
  • Glass cleaners
  • Oven cleaners
  • Fertilizers/lime
  • Glue (water-based)
  • Shoe polish
  • Medicines, other than controlled substances (mix with water/coffee grounds or kitty litter to make it unusable)


Take care with controlled substances. Your local health department or law enforcement agency may offer “take back” days for unused prescription and veterinary medications. Some pharmacy chains also offer this service.

Latex paint also can go in the trash – let it air dry before throwing the container in the trash. You can also pour the paint onto newspaper and, once dried, roll up the newspaper and place in the trash. Recycling also may be an option in your area, as some non-profit organizations reblend paint and provide it to those in need.



Generally, these liquids, powders and gels are safe to put down the drain. Take care to provide adequate ventilation, and never mix ammonia with bleach. The two create a toxic gas. You can pour:

  • Ammonia-based cleaners
  • Drain cleaners
  • Bleaches – use running water
  • Automatic and hand dishwashing detergents
  • Spot removers

If still in doubt, you can also check Earth911.com for disposal rules in your area.

Many cities and towns have regular collection days or local collection sites that can take the toxic chemicals off your hands and dispose of them properly. Contact your local Department of Public Works or Department of Environmental Services for more options.



United States Environmental Protection Agency “Hazardous Household Waste (HHW)- Safe Management of HHW”


This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and policy service.

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