The Perspective
   
SPRING 2014

To Toss or to Recycle? That is the Question.

While you’re spring cleaning this year, consider the ways in which you dispose of common household goods and whether or not their disposal has a negative impact on the environment or creates a hazardous situation. For instance, did you know that a large quantity of improperly disposed batteries can pose a fire risk? Did you know that some chemicals, such as paint thinner, are exceptionally dangerous to pour down a drain because they could potentially ignite, cause an explosion and/or upset the biological balance of the water treatment plant?

Many products are safe when used and stored properly; however, they can become hazardous when exposed to other chemicals and elements such as water or heat, or when they are disrupted or removed from their original containers. Because disposing of household waste can sometimes pose a risk to residents or collection workers, Republic Services has established Household Hazardous Waste Centers for residential customers to drop off their hazardous items. To use the service, residents need to visit on the days listed on the Household Hazardous Waste Calendar and bring a copy of their trash bill. To simplify the rather confusing dos and don’ts of disposal, Southern Nevada Health District Interim Environmental Health Supervisor Brian Northam discusses getting rid of anything from batteries to food grease.

Batteries

  • Alkaline | While alkaline batteries (the standard AA, AAA, C, D and 9-volt) pose no risk to landfills, they can be recycled. However, if a large quantity of batteries is packaged improperly, it could become a fire hazard.
  • Lead acid | Lead acid batteries (car or golf cart batteries) need to be recycled properly. Look online for an auto battery retailer that recycles them or take to a commercial recycler.
  • Lithium | Hazardous? Yes. Need to be recycled? Yes. Because there are different kinds (rechargeable AA batteries, button-sized batteries, etc.) requiring different recycling progresses, contract a corporate steward with recycling programs, such as Best Buy, or go to Republic.

Household chemicals

There are too many different types of household cleaners and chemicals to provide specific disposal instructions for all of them. Northam offers suggestions to ensure safe disposal. First, use a product until the bottle is empty, which then can be trashed or recycled. Secondly, if you are unable to use until empty, look at the product label for specific disposal instructions, though he warns that even products advertised as “safe” may still pose a hazard. (Case in point, some water-based products are unsafe to pour down the drain.) Finally, if you are still unsure, take to Republic.

Roger Behringer, Supervisor, Medical Waste at Republic Services, Inc., warns residents to be mindful when collecting household chemicals to bring to the Household Hazardous Waste Center. “Many times, people bring in an old cardboard box of chemicals that have been stored for many years in the original containers, which become unstable or compromised over time,” he said. However, combining all types of chemical containers in one box is dangerous because of the potential reaction if the chemicals were to come in contact with one another. Behringer suggests educating yourself about the chemicals you purchase, store and dispose, and separating acids from bases.

Light bulbs

  • Incandescent | These traditional light bulbs are not hazardous and may be tossed into the trash. However, these soon-to-be dinosaurs are now illegible to import or manufacture in an effort to increase lighting efficiency in the United States.
  • Fluorescent | The newly designed compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) contain mercury and should be recycled. Take to Republic.
  • LED | These bulbs are very expensive, highly efficient, long-lasting and too new to know the best method of disposal since they are suspected to last up to 20 years. (We’ll let you know in year 2034…)

Computers and e-waste

  • Computer monitors have lead in the glass and are considered hazardous even though the lead is “trapped” inside the glass. Take to Republic.
  • The CPU (central processing unit) of computers contains electronics, which may have value, so you won’t be charged to recycle them. Take to a commercial recycler (to potentially earn money for the transaction or take to Republic.
  • Keep in mind, when purchasing a new computer to replace an existing one, the vendor where you make your purchase may have a recycling plan for your old PC.

Motor Oil

Motor oil can be recycled back into its original form or another useful fluid, such as fuel or transmission fluid. Check your auto parts store for recycling information or take to Republic.

Paint

  • Oil/acrylic | This type of household paint is highly flammable. Take to Republic.
  • Latex | This nontoxic paint is mostly considered a nuisance when improperly discarded because of the potential mess it makes. Northam offers a way to get around the mess associated with latex paint: place the can outside (out of reach of children and pets), pop the top of the paint can and let the paint dry up. It turns into lump of plastic, and then you can throw it into the trash.
  • Paint thinner, even the water-based variety, is toxic, flammable and potentially explosive. Do not pour it down the drain. Take to Republic.

Appliances

Of all of the appliances manufactured today, only two require special attention. Refrigerators and air conditioners contain CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)--toxic airborne compounds attributed to causing the ozone depletion.

  • Refrigerators | NV Energy has a refrigerator recycling program that hauls away (for free) outdated yet working full-size refrigerators and gives the customers a $50 incentive. If your refrigerator is inoperable or dorm-sized, take to Republic.
  • Air conditioners | To properly dispose of an A/C unit, contact a reputable scrap metal yard ahead of time to ensure the unit will be accepted.
  • For all other appliances, take to a scrap metal yard or to Republic.

Food grease

While it’s not hazardous to the environment, cooking oil or food grease poured down a drain can wreak havoc on your pipes and sewage system. If you need to dispose of a small amount, pour into a can and toss into the garbage. If you need to get rid of 10 gallons of used vegetable oil after deep-frying a turkey, then take to Republic.

When determining whether or not to toss a potentially hazardous item, first read the label (if available) for any disposal instructions; check the health district’s Clark County Recycles webpage; and/or visit the Republic Services Household Hazardous Waste webpage. Be sure to note the items not accepted by Republic, such as pressurized gas tanks (helium, propane, oxygen, etc.). Behringer emphasizes the extreme danger some products present, and he encourages residents to use caution when handling and transporting them.

For more information about recycling hazardous household products or where to take them, go to the Southern Nevada Health District's Clark County Recycles webpage or to view the hazardous waste centers' calendars, visit the Republic Services Household Hazardous Waste webpage.

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