Many of the products that are seen in homes today would be classified as hazardous waste if they were being used in an industrial setting. We often don't realize that these products need to be used and disposed of in ways that are specific to hazardous chemicals. If you have hazardous products in your home it is important that you are aware of what the dangers are, and how to take appropriate measures to protect yourself. This section describes what household hazardous waste is, why it is a concern, and products of which to be aware. For more information about household hazardous waste, how you can protect yourself and your family from exposures, and safe alternatives to toxic chemicals, contact the Chemical Hazards Program.
What is a Household Hazardous Waste?
Household waste is any solid waste discarded from a home and can be classified as either non-hazardous or hazardous. Hazardous wastes, specifically, are any chemical waste compound that has one or more of the following characteristics:
- Corrosive - damages human tissue.
- Ignitable - catches fire under certain conditions.
- Toxic - causes injury or death if swallowed, absorbed through skin, or inhaled.
- Reactive - capable of causing an explosion
Therefore, any product used in the home that has any of these characteristics, and is discarded prior to complete use, falls into the category of household hazardous waste.
Everyday use products that contain hazardous chemicals include drain cleaners, ammonia or bleach containing cleaners or disinfectants, pesticides, paints, varnishes, thinners, lacquers, anti-freeze and car batteries. Though this is not an exhaustive list, all of these products have the potential to be a hazard during usage or as their inclusion as part of a waste stream. As a result, special attention must be paid to their storage, handling and disposal.
Why are Household Hazardous Wastes a Concern?
- If hazardous household products are used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, which include instructions for proper storage, use and disposal, then the product is not likely to pose a threat to human health and the environment. However, because there is such familiarity with common chemicals that we use routinely in our homes, those instructions are likely to be disregarded. The manufacturer’s information is often completely ignored and always at the peril of the chemical user and others nearby. When hazardous household chemicals are misused, stored, or disposed of improperly they can cause injury to occupants in the home, waste workers, contaminate ground and surface waters, as well as damage septic systems.
- Examples of hazardous chemical misuse, storage and disposal that have potentially lethal consequences, include, but are not limited to:
- Mixing ammonia with bleach to create a potent cleaning compound and creating toxic chloramine and other gases as well
- Stockpiling old car batteries in the backyard and contaminating the soil in a children’s play area with lead
- Pouring used motor oil down a storm drain, contributing to the contamination of rivers and streams
- Common household chemicals vary significantly in terms of the potential hazards that they present. However, it is possible to safely manage them at every step, from their initial purchase to their ultimate disposal.
- Source Reduction – Purchase only what is needed and use it up in a timely manner. Avoid the trap of long term storage of chemical containers by performing some simple spring cleaning at least once a year to determine what you have on hand, what is needed and what is not necessary to keep. Pay special attention to use by dates, if there are any, and properly dispose of expired product.
- Proper Storage - Keep chemicals in your home out of the reach of children and pets. Always keep chemicals in their original containers with the labels. Never store chemicals in food or water containers.
- Follow the Instructions - Chemical labels contain instructions for proper use, handling and disposal. Always use in accordance with manufacturer’s guidelines contained on the label of a particular product. Use personal protective equipment such as gloves, protective eyewear, mask, etc. If you follow the instructions you should be safe and acting safely for the environment.
- Recycling/Reuse - Many chemicals can be recycled or used by other people. Avoid discarding materials that someone else may want, need, or that can be recycled. This reduces the amount of waste going into landfills, and protects the environment. It also reduces the likelihood of human exposure resulting from the accumulation of hazardous materials in the home.
- Utilize Alternatives – The ability to perform the same task and simultaneously reduce environmental impact and exposure to hazardous materials is possible by substituting hazardous products with their less toxic alternative. From dishwashing liquid to anti-freeze, many common household products have safer substitutes available on the market that are equally effective and can achieve the desired results without contributing to potentially hazardous exposures in the home or contamination of the environment.
Disposal of hazardous waste, in quantities that exceed that of what is typically generated by a single household, is very expensive. Pesticides used by local growers are of particular concern due to the quantities used by small farms. As new pesticides are developed and others become considered illegal for use, many local growers may be forced to store unused pesticide for indefinite periods to avoid paying hazardous material disposal fees. The Georgia General Assembly and EPA have created a funding to source for Georgia Clean Day, a pilot program that has been launched to collect and dispose of unused, outdated or illegal pesticides throughout Georgia.
In addition, pesticide containers cannot be burned or reused by law, but can be recycled. For more information on Georgia Clean Day or the Pesticide Container Recycling Program, visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture at:
For other recycling options and to see what is available in your community, visit the Georgia Recycling Coalition. The GRC promotes recycling efforts in communities all over Georgia and is a repository for educational information about a variety of waste programs and green initiatives. It is also an excellent resource that can be used to identify recycling facilities and drop-off locations near you.
Additional information about recycling resources and services can be found at:
For information about setting up a similar program in your community, please contact the Chemical Hazards Program.
Page last updated 02/23/16