Ask Eartha: On Summit County ballots: Easier disposal of household hazardous waste
October 10, 2014
I was reading about Summit County ballot measure 1A coming up in November. Can you tell me more about how Summit's waterways will be protected from household hazardous waste if it passes?
Thank you for this great question, Brady. Let's start with a little information about what household hazardous wastes (HHW) are and how they pose a health risk to the public and our local environment. We'll cover electronic waste as it relates to public health and the environment, as well. According to the U.S. EPA, an individual will produce roughly 4 pounds of HHW per year for a total of 530,000 tons. An average household will generate more than 20 pounds of HHW, the majority of which will accumulate in home storage over time. Common HHWs include:
latex and oil-based paints
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solvents and household cleaners
used oil and oil filters
expired pharmaceuticals and medications
These substances can lie around the house in unmarked or unsealed containers where children and pets can easily come into contact with them. Ingestion of, or simple physical contact with, many of these substances can pose a health risk to individuals and pets. Many households dispose of HHWs by pouring them down the drain or flushing them down the toilet. Doing so can create problems in the septic system or put sanitation workers at risk at waste water treatment facilities. Most important, HHWs that are disposed of improperly may pollute local bodies of water that are used as drinking sources.
So how can you tell if a substance is considered an HHW? Read the labels of the products in your home or before you buy. Words such as poison, toxic, corrosive, volatile, flammable, inflammable, combustible, explosive, danger, caution, warning and harmful are signs that the contents are hazardous and therefore must be disposed of properly. When in doubt about a substance's identity or properties, it should be disposed of as HHW and not down the drain.
Electronic waste, commonly known as e-waste, is another form of household hazardous waste. Many electronic components contain dangerous materials that pose public and environmental risks, such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Properly recycling e-waste can help reclaim sometimes useful material and keep other dangerous material out of the landfill.
A few quick tips can help keep you from having an overabundance of dangerous waste in your home.
Reduce: Buy only the amount you need;
Reuse: Donate or lend unused products to neighbors or community organizations;
Recycle: Dispose of HHWs and e-waste at your local collection facility, where they will properly recycle the material.
Currently, the Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP) — also known as the landfill — can take common HHWs and e-waste Monday–Friday from 7 a.m.–4 p.m. for a fee. Used motor oil in sealed containers only and batteries can be collected at the free Recycle Drop Centers in Frisco and Breckenridge.
Leaving other HHWs or e-waste at the drop centers is considered illegal dumping.
The good news is that if ballot measure 1A passes in November, recycling for HHW and e-waste will be free to residents of Summit County. The county will also host biannual recycling and collection events at a location near you to collect additional hard-to-dispose-of material like pharmaceuticals. This is a win-win for our community and our environment.
If you have further questions about how to properly dispose of your HHW and e-waste, contact the High Country Conservation Center at (970) 668-5703 or visit http://www.highcountryconservation.org.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.