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Household Hazardous Materials: Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Management Options
Where To Go for P2 Help
Consumer Education
Best Practice
Complete List of Links

What is Household Hazardous Waste?

The US Environmental Protection Agency states that Americans generate 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste (HHW) every year, and the average home has accumulated as much as 100 pounds of HHW. This represents a risk to the household and to the environment if the HHW is improperly stored or disposed.

Household hazardous waste consists of the unwanted or unusable portion of consumer products that contain substances that can harm human health or the environment. Hazardous products are often found in the categories of automotive and home improvement products, cleaners, and pesticides. A product is hazardous if it exhibits one or more of the following properties in the table below.

Can be easily ignited by spark, flame or heat. Flammables have a flash point of less than 100oF, while ignitables have a flash point of less than 140oF. Gasoline
Paint thinner,
Charcoal starter,
Spot remover
Can explode or react violently when subjected to heat, sudden shock, pressure or contact with an incompatible substance. Pool/spa chemicals,
Corrosive Can burn and destroy living tissues and dissolve metals. A corrosive substance has a pH value of less than or equal to 2.0, or greater than 12.5. Drain opener,
Oven cleaner,
Rust remover,
Toxic Can cause injury or death through ingestion, inhalation, or skin absorption. Many products that are flammable, corrosive or reactive are also toxic. Pesticides,
Lead in TV screens,
Mercury thermometer,
Radioactive Can damage the nuclei of cells, interfering with cell reproduction by changing the genetic cell structure Ionizing smoke detectors,
Static eliminators,
Gas lantern mantles

Hazardous wastes from households are not regulated in the same way as hazardous wastes from industry, businesses, and farms simply because it would be impossible to enforce this ubiquitous and pervasive waste stream. In fact, household hazardous wastes are specifically exempted under the federal law regulating hazardous waste disposal, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Even so, the accumulated environmental impact from household hazardous wastes poses a significant and manageable risk.

  • Over 5 million poisoning exposures occur annually in the U.S., 92% occur in the home, and 53% of these poisonings involve children under the age of six. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
  • Mishandling of gasoline is responsible for over 6,000 residential fires, 500 deaths, and nearly $500 million in property damage each year in the U.S. American Burn Association

Composition of HHW

AMRC Study University of Arizona Study
41%Paint 36.6%Paint
22%Flammables 18.6%Batteries
17%Oil 12.1%Cosmetics
11%Batteries 11.5%Cleaners
4.5%Gas Cylinders 10.5%Automotive Products
1.6%Antifreeze 4.1 %Yard Items (pesticides, fertilizers)
3.4%Hobby/Other(pool, art supplies) 3.2%Pharmaceuticals

What HHW Is Not: Conditionally Exempt Generators (CESQG)

Small businesses can find themselves in a special predicament if they purchase and use hazardous materials. While households are excluded from RCRA regulation, businesses are not - even if they are using the same types of materials used by households.

Non-residential generators of small amounts of hazardous waste are known as "conditionally exempt small quantity generators" (CESQGs). CESQGs are those that generate less than 220 pounds of hazardous waste in a month or have an accumulation of less than 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste. As with household hazardous wastes, RCRA does not regulate these businesses the same as large industrial hazardous waste generators because federal enforcement would be very difficult or impossible. Instead, the CESQGs are required to manage their wastes at a RCRA permitted facility (a landfill, resource recovery, or hazardous waste facility).

CESQG wastes can represent a large portion of the hazardous wastes entering municipal wastes streams. A Washington State study estimated that the average small business generates 1,400 pounds of hazardous waste per year (119 pounds per month). As with HHW, these wastes pose hazards to human health and the environment. In response, many states or local governments adopt stricter rules that regulate CESQGs or ban their wastes from landfills. This leaves some businesses in the dilemma of having to store wastes, or pay large fees for disposing of small amounts of hazardous wastes, if special collection systems are not available. The recognition of this problem has prompted some communities to establish programs in which businesses can bring hazardous wastes, for a small fee, to the household hazardous waste collection facility. In these cases, the facilities must operate under a RCRA permit.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Household Hazardous Materials Topic Hub™ was developed by:

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Hub Last Updated: 5/7/2009