Most households contain some form of hazardous waste — that is, wastes or products that are potentially harmful to humans or the environment when disposed of – so it’s important to know how to handle, store and dispose of such materials and substances. By knowing how to properly manage hazardous wastes, minimise your impact on the environment, and avoid the serious penalties associated with the improper disposal of toxic materials.
What is hazardous household waste?
The average Australian household is likely to have at least a few substances or products containing harmful elements, which is why it’s important to identify any materials that could be classified as hazardous within your home. Examples of common hazardous household waste include pesticides and garden chemicals (including manure), solvent-based paints, old batteries (including car batteries, mobile phone batteries and regular batteries), fuels such as petrol and kerosene, cleaning products, prescription (and non-prescription) drugs, motor oils (for cars, motorbikes or even lawn mowers), swimming pool chemicals, old technology (obsolete computer equipment, old mobile phones, TVs etc.) and household items such as thermometers, thermostats, fluorescent tubes and compact globes (which all contain harmful chemicals).
Proper handling and storage
For the time that you use such products or substances, care should be taken to ensure proper handling and storage, so as to minimise risks to the environment, and, of course, for your own personal safety.
Safe storage and handling tips include:
- Keeping products in their original containers wherever possible. If containers are damaged or leaking, transfer the substance into a new container, however ensure it is clearly labeled and avoid using food or drink containers.
- When decanting a substance into a new container, make sure the container is clean to prevent against mixing chemicals.
- Ensure all labels are clearly visible (including warnings and instructions) and transfer these to new containers if necessary.
- Keep all hazardous waste and materials well out of reach of children and ensure lids are tightly secured.
- Do not keep any ignition tools, such as matches or lighters, in or near the storage area.
- Keep the storage area cool and dry.
- Only buy as much as you need.
How to dispose of hazardous waste
Eventually you will need to dispose of hazardous items, and the proper way to go about this depends on the type of waste concerned. There are various buy-back schemes for different items in Victoria, such as the Byteback scheme for unwanted computer equipment, the industry mobile phone recycling program MobileMuster and Detox your home collection points which accept a wide range of hazardous household chemicals and items. Expired or unused pharmaceuticals can also be disposed of with a licensed pharmacist through the Return of Unwanted Medicines program.
Improperly disposing of hazardous waste
Hazardous household waste must never be disposed of with regular rubbish, poured down the sink, or disposed of on your property. Here are some examples of what can happen when hazardous waste is improperly disposed of:
- Disposed of in the garden – when hazardous chemicals are dumped or buried in the garden, they can leach into the surface or groundwater. Once chemicals have contaminated a water source, they can affect the surrounding soil and plants for a long time and pose serious health risks to humans, pets and wildlife.
- Poured down the sink – hazardous waste should never be disposed of down the sink, as this can corrode pipes and cause blockages in stormwater drains. Pouring dangerous chemicals down the sink can also cause problems for water treatment plants.
- Dumped with regular rubbish – hazardous waste should never be disposed of with regular rubbish, as normal landfills are not designed to accommodate these sorts of chemicals. When hazardous waste is lumped in with the rest of the rubbish, it compromises the health and safety of garbage collectors and there is a possibility of water source contamination.
- Littering of plastic bag – because plastic bags do not degrade, they can be very harmful if they end up in waterways through improper disposal as they can harm wildlife.
It’s extremely important to make sure hazardous household waste is properly disposed of so as to avoid harmful environmental impacts. If you suspect hazardous waste has been improperly disposed of on your property, you can get trusted environmental consultants in Melbourne to conduct an environmental site assessment or test for soil contamination. Alpha Environmental are experienced environmental consultants who can help you with any hazardous wastes or materials.