Protecting Public Health and the Environment.

Household Hazardous Waste

What is Household Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste has properties that make it dangerous or potentially harmful to human health or the environment. It can be liquids, solids, contained gases, or sludges. Household hazardous waste (HHW) is generated in a home rather than a business or organization. Americans generate 1.6 million tons of HHW each year. 

Common HHW includes the following:

  • Paints and stains
  • Cleaners
  • Aerosols
  • Laundry products
  • Batteries
  • Yard and garden products
  • Thermostats
  • Thermometers
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs
  • Electronics
  • Pharmaceuticals

How Do I Know if Something is Hazardous?

Read the product label and look for signal words. Signal words are found on labels of many different products, although older products may not list these words. Drugs and personal care products may be hazardous but not all are required to have signal words.

Signal Words

  • Poison
  • Danger
  • Warning
  • Caution

How Do I Properly Dispose of HHW?

HHW is sometimes disposed of improperly when it is poured down the drain, onto the ground, into the storm sewers, or put in the trash. Some HHW can injure sanitation workers, contaminate wastewater treatment systems, or leak out of landfills into ground water. Therefore, it is important to properly dispose of HHW.

Many communities have collection events available for free to citizens. To find out if your community has such a program, contact your county solid waste department or landfill or city public works department. If your community does not have a program, consider generating support to create one. Let your local officials know that diverting HHW is important to you. Even if your community does not have an official or all-inclusive program, many do recycle used oil, antifreeze, batteries, and refrigerators. Ask about the specific waste you have.

If your community does not have a program, other no-cost solutions are available for specific wastes. For example, local retail outlets may offer recycling of some hazardous wastes, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, electronic equipment, and cell phones. Nonprofit organizations may be interested in leftover paint or used computers and monitors. If all else fails, call the manufacturer and see if it will recycle or properly dispose of the waste for you.

Exempt Consumer Products Containing Small Amounts of Radioactive Materials

Consumer products such as old wrist watches with dials painted with radium or tritium or old household smoke detectors that use americium are exempt from federal and state radioactive materials disposal regulations and can be disposed in household trash because of low environmental and health risks. Contact your community HHW collection disposal program for more information. Learn more on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission website.

Think Pollution Prevention!

The best solution to dealing with HHW is to not generate it in the first place. This can be achieved by the following:

  • Purchase alternative nontoxic products, less-toxic products, and no more than what you can use.
  • Use the entire product before purchasing more.