Ask Eartha: The hazards of the household (column) |

Ask Eartha: The hazards of the household (column)

Young woman putting a bottle in a recycling bin
Getty Images/Ingram Publishing | Ingram Publishing

Dear Eartha,

I understand that Saturday, May 16 is Town Clean Up Day, but most activities revolve around cleaning up public spaces. I have some toxic materials sitting around my house that I want to get rid of but I’m not sure how. Can you recommend some ideas? — Tyler, Breckenridge

Tyler, what perfect timing for your question and thank you for wanting to do the right thing by properly disposing of your toxic material! First and foremost, toxic materials should never be dumped down a drain, flushed down the toilet, or thrown out in the trash. Once that material ends up in our waterways or is loose in the landfill, it can cause major problems both for public safety and for the environment. But let’s take a step back and understand exactly what qualifies as toxic material — also known as Household Hazardous Waste (HHW).

What is HHW?

Many products that are commonly found in homes contain hazardous ingredients. These can be found in products made for cleaning, painting, staining, beautifying, healing or disinfecting and may be used in the house, yard, garage and even on your body! All products should be used, stored and disposed of responsibly.

Read the labels of the products in your home. Words such as: poison, toxic, corrosive, volatile, flammable, inflammable, combustible, explosive, danger, caution, warning and harmful are signs that the contents are hazardous. Be careful where you choose to store these products as pets and children can easily and accidentally be exposed. Do not mix products either. Who knows what kind of new and dangerous concoction will emerge from mixing materials.

To ensure that you don’t have a lot of extra HHW materials lying around the house, you want to plan carefully so that you don’t buy too much and then have leftovers. Proper planning in the beginning can save you the trouble and headache of having to store and dispose of these materials. If you do have leftover material, make sure these products are kept in sealed and corrosive-free containers and out of the reach of children.

There is also a new term called emerging contaminants and include pharmaceuticals, personal care products, cleaning agents and plastics. While these products don’t yet have critical mass in our waterways to be considered pollutants, we are seeing increasing frequency of these materials downstream. We must acknowledge the end life of these products and determine alternative recycling and disposal practices that support a healthy environment and protect public safety.

Proper Disposal

So now that you know what is considered HHW and emerging contaminants in your home, what do you do with them? Here in Summit County, we’re lucky enough to have a program that takes those materials for free so there’s no excuse for improper disposal. The Summit County Resource Allocation Park on Landfill Road just outside of Keystone accepts HHW material Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Starting on June 6, the SCRAP will conveniently accept materials until noon on Saturdays too. Until then, Summit County government will be hosting a collection event for HHW materials on May 16 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Summit Stage Bus Barn in Frisco, across from the County Commons. The event is part of a new series of special-waste collection events funded through the Summit County Safety First Fund, approved by voters in November 2014.

During the first two collection events, held in January and March, Summit County collected old electronics and unused pharmaceuticals. The vehicle count for both events totaled 1,045; residents and property owners dropped off 70 tons of electronics and 195 pounds of medications. Way to go Summit County! In addition to HHW, electronics and pharmaceuticals will also be accepted at the May 16 event.

Accepted household hazardous waste items include paints, stains, pesticides, fertilizers, cleansers, solvents, adhesives, and mercury thermometers and switches. Materials must be in their original containers and/or clearly labeled. Household hazardous waste items not accepted at this event, but accepted onsite at the SCRAP, include antifreeze, fluorescent bulbs, gasoline, kerosene, batteries and motor oil. Items not accepted at the SCRAP or the event include explosives, ammunition, infectious waste, propane tanks and radioactive materials.

For more information about HHW disposal, or to help as a volunteer at the May 16 event, visit

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

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