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Residential Waste

Hazardous wastes generated at home are not typically regulated by DEQ. However, there are best management practices you can follow to ensure potentially hazardous wastes generated at home are handled safely and disposed of in a manner that protects human health and our environment. 

  • Hazardous Waste
  • Electronics
  • Mercury Spills
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Used Oil

Hazardous wastes produced by residents are called household hazardous wastes (HHW) and are exempt from hazardous waste regulations. However, these items are still potentially dangerous to human health and the environment and should be handled and disposed of in the safest possible manner.

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  • 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? Look for signal words on the product label such as poison, danger, warning, or caution. Some older products, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products may not have signal words but may still be hazardous.

Many communities have collection events available to residents. Contact your county, public health district, or local landfill to find out what is available in your area.  Even if your community does not have an all-inclusive program, many recycle used oil, antifreeze, batteries, and refrigerators.

Other no-cost solutions are available for specific wastes. Retailers may offer to recycle some hazardous wastes such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, electronic equipment, and cell phones. Nonprofit organizations may be interested in leftover paint or used electronics. If all else fails, contact the manufacturer and see if it will recycle or properly dispose of the waste for you.

Determine whether a product is potentially hazardous before you buy it. Look for signals on the product label such as poison, danger, warning, or caution. The best solution to dealing with household hazardous waste (HHW) is to not generate it in the first place. Purchase nontoxic products or less-toxic products, and only buy what you can use. Use the entire product before purchasing more. See DEQ’s Pollution Prevention program for assistance.

The use of electronic products has grown substantially over the past several decades. With the increase in the use of electronic devices comes the problem of managing and disposing of electronic waste (e-waste). E-waste includes unwanted, obsolete, or unusable electronic products such as computers and tablets, televisions, DVD players, stereo equipment, and cell phones. E-waste takes up valuable landfill space and can contain hazardous materials such as lead. When disposed of improperly, e-waste can have adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

E-waste can be managed in various ways, depending on its continued usability, availability of reprocessing facilities, where it is generated, and other factors.

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Some electronics can be repaired or upgraded to extend their usable life. Other electronics can be refurbished for resale.  Reusing electronics reduces the amount disposed of and the raw materials needed to create new electronic devices. Look for electronics repair shops that can help you extend the life of your devices. Repair shops, electronics manufacturers, and electronics retailers may also purchase or accept donated electronics to refurbish for resale or use for parts.

Many charities, schools, and other organizations need equipment. Donating used but operating electronics extends the lifespan of the products while providing valuable resources to organizations in need. Search for electronics donation programs in your area and call first to inquire about their requirements and acceptance policies.

Recycling conserves natural resources by reusing the plastics, metals, and other parts from old electronics. Recycling also conserves limited landfill space and protects the environment by keeping hazardous materials out of landfills. There are numerous national and regional recycling programs for used electronics and accessories. Most major electronics manufacturers and many waste management companies offer some type of recycling program. For a nominal charge, some programs will provide pick-up from home or office or pay for shipping costs, then donate working components to charity or recycle unusable parts.

As a last resort, you may be able to dispose of old equipment in local landfills with permission from the landfill. Some communities and landfills have household hazardous waste programs to handle potentially hazardous products separately from normal trash. Contact your waste management company, county, public health district, or local landfill operator for safe disposal information.

Visit EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management of Electronics program to learn more about electronic stewardship and efforts to reduce the impact of electronic waste on the environment.

Mercury is a naturally occurring metallic element found in trace amounts in air, waste, and soil. It comes in three forms: elemental, inorganic, and organic. All forms of mercury are poisonous to humans. The severity of effects depends largely on exposure.

Contact the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare – Environmental Health Program for health-related exposure concerns at (800) 445-8647 or email 

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Never use an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum cleaner will release mercury vapor into the air and increase exposure. The vacuum cleaner will also be contaminated and must be thrown away.

Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.

Never pour mercury down a drain. It may cause plumbing problems and cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.

Never wash mercury-contaminated items in a washing machine. Mercury may contaminate the machine and pollute sewage.

Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.

  1. Have everyone leave the room. Do not let them walk through the breakage area.
  2. Open windows and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system to the affected area.
  4. Put on rubber, nitrile, or latex gloves.
  5. Use duct tape to pick up small pieces of glass and powder.
  6. Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard.
  7. Wipe hard surfaces clean with a damp paper towel or wet wipe.
  8. Soft material such as clothing can be washed as long as it did not come into direct contact with the broken materials. If it did, it can be disposed of in the same manner as the glass and powder materials.
  9. Place all materials in a sealed hard container.
  10. Immediately place all cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area.
  11. Wash your hands.
  12. Check to see if your community has a household hazardous waste program. If not, check with your local landfill to see how to dispose of the material.
  13. Mercury is not easily removed from carpets or rugs, so disposal is often the best solution.

The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming. Keep the systems off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming. After vacuuming the area for the first time, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of in the same manner as the cleanup material.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) contain an average of 4 milligrams of mercury, about enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury. Therefore, different precautions should be taken when cleaning up a spill from a thermometer or a larger source of mercury than from a CFL.

  1. Have everyone leave the room. Do not let them walk through the breakage area.
  2. Open windows and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system to the affected area.
  4. Put on rubber, nitrile, or latex gloves.
  5. Place a paper towel in a hard container. Pick up any broken pieces of glass or sharp objects and transfer them to the paper towel in the container. Seal and label the container.
  6. Locate visible mercury beads. Use a squeegee or cardboard to gather mercury beads in one location. Use slow sweeping motions to keep mercury from becoming uncontrollable. Take a flashlight, hold it at a low angle close to the floor in a darkened room, and look for additional glistening beads of mercury that may be sticking to the surface or in small cracked areas of the surface. Mercury can move surprising distances on hard flat surfaces, so inspect the entire room when searching.
  7. Dampen a paper towel and place it in a hard container. Use an eyedropper to collect or draw up the mercury beads and squeeze mercury onto the paper towel. Seal and label the container.
  8. After you remove larger beads, use duct tape to collect smaller hard-to-see beads. Place the tape in a hard container. Seal and label the container.
  9. Place all materials used with the cleanup, including gloves and sealed containers, in a trash bag. Secure trash bag and label it.
  10. If the spill occurs on carpet or a rug, disposing of the rug or area of contaminated carpet may be required.  Mercury is not easily removed from carpets or rugs, so disposal is often the best solution to ensuring the mercury is properly cleaned up.
  11. If you choose not to clean up the spill yourself, you may want to request the services of a contractor. Call DEQ or your local health district to inquire about contractors in your area and to verify what monitoring equipment should be used.
  12. Remember to keep the area well ventilated to the outside for at least
    24 hours after your successful cleanup. Continue to keep pets and children out of the cleanup area. If sickness occurs, seek medical attention immediately. View information on the health effects of exposure to vapors from mercury. For additional information on health effects, see the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s Mercury Fact Sheet.
  1. Have everyone leave the room. Do not let them walk through the breakage area.
  2. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system to the affected area.
  3. Open windows to vent vapors, shut all doors to other parts of the house, and leave the area.
  4. Call 911 to activate Idaho’s Emergency Response Network, which consists of state and local agencies (including designated DEQ regional office personnel), and, if necessary, federal agencies.
  5. If the spill is greater than 1 pound (2 tablespoons), also call the National Response Center (NRC) at (800) 424-8802. Any time 1 pound or more of mercury is released to the environment, it is mandatory to call the NRC.

Unused or expired pharmaceuticals, including prescription, over-the-counter, and veterinary medication, can adversely affect human health and the environment, potentially leading to increased drug abuse and accidental poisonings. Best management practices and proper disposal can help keep pharmaceuticals out of the environment and prevent negative impacts on human health.

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Environmental impacts. When pharmaceuticals are flushed or poured down the drain, they end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams. Over 80% of waterways tested in the United States show traces of common medications such as acetaminophen, hormones, blood pressure medicine, codeine, and antibiotics. EPA studies found that increased hormone levels in water bodies can adversely impact aquatic life and cause reproductive defects in fish. Studies also show that the presence of antibiotics in our environment can contribute to the development of drug-resistant germs.  

Drug abuse. Unused or expired pharmaceuticals can be easily accessible and appealing to potential drug abusers, especially children and young adults. Properly disposing of unneeded household pharmaceuticals can reduce the risk of accidental poisoning or overdose.

Use a drug take-back program. The best option for disposing of your unused, unwanted, or expired pharmaceuticals is a drug take-back program.

  • Look for a drug take-back program in your area through Idaho’s Office of Drug Policy
  • Ask your local pharmacy, hospital, clinic, or veterinarian about drug take-back options.
  • Many household hazardous waste programs will take your unused, unwanted, or expired pharmaceuticals. Contact your public health district, county, city, or local landfill to find out about household hazardous waste programs in your area.

Throw in the trash: If there is no take-back program in your area, dispose of pharmaceuticals in the trash:

  • Remove the medications from their original containers.
  • Mix them with an undesirable substance like used coffee grounds or kitty litter.
  • Put them in impermeable, non-descript containers.
  • Hide them in your trash.
  • No, pharmaceuticals should never be flushed. This includes all medication for humans or animals that is intended to be swallowed, inhaled, injected, applied, or absorbed.
  • Contact your local wastewater department if the medication information specifically instructs you to flush the medication. Flushing medications may be prohibited by your local sewer ordinance or wastewater treatment plant’s operational requirements.
  • Never flush medication if you have a septic system. The drugs can interfere with the microbial life that is required for the system to function properly.

Purchase drugs in small amounts and only as much as can be reasonably used before the expiration date (e.g., do not buy 500 aspirin because it is cheaper unless you know you will use them all). Also, follow your doctor’s advice to take all antibiotics until the supply is exhausted. Not using all doses of an antibiotic could lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains.

Improperly handled used oil can have detrimental effects on the environment. It is insoluble, persistent, and can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals. It is slow to degrade and it sticks to everything. It is also a major source of oil contamination of waterways and can pollute drinking water sources.

People who change their own vehicle’s oil are not subject to the used oil regulations. However, used oil generated at home should still be handled responsibly to protect human health and the environment. Many communities have used oil collections. Contact your county, public health district, or local landfill to find out what options are available in your area. Some vehicle maintenance shops may also be able to take your used oil. If you reuse your oil as a lubricant for other equipment, store it in leak-proof containers and take care not to spill it.

For more information on used oil see EPA’s Managing, Reusing, and Recycling Used Oil.

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Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief

Natalie K. Walker
(208) 373-0506

Hazardous Waste Compliance and Enforcement Supervisor

Jessica Brock
(208) 373-0278

Hazardous Waste Rules & Policy Coordinator

Caroline Moores
(208) 373-0554

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