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

Essential Links:

Best Management Practices Resource Guide
Thorough guide to HHW management with several useful appendices containing examples and practical re...

The generally accepted "best" waste management strategy describes collection and disposal as the least favorable option for effective waste management. Reducing the amount of waste at the source and educating consumers about safe use and handling of hazardous products provides the best opportunity. The following collection options provide alternative programs available for HHW disposal until the day when collection programs become obsolete. Collected household hazardous wastes, if not disposed with other municipal solid waste, are disposed at a hazardous waste treatment facility, used as supplementary fuel by industry, or recycled back into another hazardous product, e.g., lead, mercury, or other heavy metals.

Municipal Landfills and Incinerators

All hazardous wastes present some management concerns. Large single sources of hazardous wastes have been successfully redirected from landfills and municipal incinerators by the RCRA regulations. But a significant hazardous waste input made up of small contributions from many multiple points, including households, still presents concerns for waste handlers, landfill operators, sanitary sewer operators, and environmental agencies. Simply put, the more often households contribute toxic, corrosive, flammable, or reactive materials to these facilities, the more it costs to operate or maintain them, and the greater the environmental impact.

Because of costs and associated risks, states have passed laws with guidelines for proper management of these wastes by diverting them from landfills and incinerators. Many states have implemented management programs that include consumer education to reduce the use and disposal of hazardous products; recycling centers for used oil, antifreeze, batteries and other wastes that cannot be eliminated; and collection programs for accumulated stores of old pesticides, paint, mercury, and other materials.

Household Hazardous Waste Collections

Seeing a potential benefit of reduced the costs and risks, many communities have implemented household hazardous waste collection programs. Over the past 20 years, communities have become innovative at developing programs most appropriate for their service area, population, and resources. Though special collection provides the safest handling for HHW and the least liability for communities, it is not without problems. The increasing number of products categorized as hazardous require many different methods of handling and disposal (for example, electronics must be disassembled and components managed as separate waste streams). Collections are expensive and add to the cost of operating safe communities—costs borne by taxpayers and ratepayers.

Targeted Waste Collection

Many communities opt for limited waste collections that target certain wastes, such as those of the greatest quantity (antifreeze, batteries, oil, and paint), or those causing the worst disposal problems (pesticides, batteries, electronics, fluorescent tubes). Some of these materials can be handled under more streamlined management methods (such as used oil or "universal wastes").

One-Day Collection

A community that lacks the resources to maintain ongoing collection programs may contract one-day collection events with a licensed hazardous waste disposal company. To further reduce costs, communities often provide local employees or volunteers to assist with publicity, traffic control, emergency response plans, participant surveys, refreshments, usable product exchanges, and unloading vehicles.

Permanent Collection Facilities

Communities choose to develop a permanent collection facility to make collection more convenient for participants and for workers. A basic facility design typically includes an unloading area, containment and storage areas, fire suppression equipment, grounded bulking area, safety equipment, emergency eyewash and shower, and supplies storage. More elaborate facilities have separate sorting bays, laboratories, employee break rooms, offices, restrooms, carports, explosion-proof heaters, swap rooms, and landscaping. Because materials don't have to be removed from the site at the end of the day (as with one-day events), permanent programs afford more opportunities for recycling, reuse, consolidating, and local treatment. The main disadvantage to permanent programs is the need for institutionalized, ongoing sources of funding. Permanent facilities may fall under state and local permitting and reporting requirements. Finally, because facilities are fixed in place they may be inconveniently located to part of the community.

Satellite and Mobile Collection Units

Some communities choose to extend the service area of a permanent collection facility with other collection operations. Satellite sites are fixed facilities (e.g. at a transfer station or recycling center) spread throughout the service area to provide temporary storage for the wastes until they can be sent to a main facility for further processing and disposal. Mobile sites typically follow a route within the service area, staying in place for a specified period and then moving the whole operation to the next site. Similar to one-day events, mobile units have set up at fairgrounds, parks, shopping malls, fire stations, schools, church lots, store parking lots, and other convenient locations. Wastes are transported to a main facility for processing and disposal.

Curbside Collection

To serve special needs in the community, some areas have tried door-to-door pickup or curbside collection, where trained personnel pick up materials in a retrofitted truck and transport the waste to a main facility for processing and disposal. Door-to-door is particularly helpful to elderly and disabled people, and in locations where the majority of people rely on mass transit or alternative transportation.

Material Exchange

Many communities have implemented materials exchange programs (alternatively known as "SWAP" or "Drop and Shop") for usable products that, for various reasons, people no longer want. Exchange programs may simply be a website or list where consumers can post materials "materials available" and "materials wanted." Individuals conduct the interaction without a third party involved in the handling of the materials. Guidelines for this type of materials exchange, as well as how to determine if materials are suitable for exchange, are available through the Household Hazardous Waste Project's Solid Waste Abatement Program: SWAP Your Waste guidesheet.

In other communities, an area is set aside at the HHW collection event or facility where usable materials are displayed and made available to those who need them. Concerns about the possibility of litigation resulting from the exchange of opened products have been addressed by limiting access to city/county employees, having consumers sign a waiver, or limiting the exchange to paint and less hazardous materials.


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

The Household Hazardous Materials Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Pollution Prevention Regional Information Center
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Hub Last Updated: 5/7/2009