Maybe you’ve recently bought a house, or a loved one has passed away and you’re cleaning out his or her house. In the garage, crawlspace, or outbuilding you find a dusty shelf loaded with rusty old cans of paint, solvents, spray insecticides, liquid fertilizers, gasoline, and more.
Dumping them down the drain will pollute the groundwater and putting them in the trash may not be allowed, so what exactly are you supposed to do with them? The often frustrating reality is that in Georgia at this time, reuse and recycling options for household hazardous waste (HHW) are extremely limited.
If you owned a business that generated this type of waste, you would be required to track its generation and disposal, and pay very high disposal costs to have the material safely removed and either recycled (most likely blended into fuels for industrial furnaces and boilers) or disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill. However, state and federal laws provide an exemption for individuals. You can legally throw these items in the garbage (but only solids, because garbage trucks are not allowed to pick up liquid waste).
Some companies collect small amounts but charge high fees for the service, which typically involves sending a truck and chemist to collect the material. This option is recommended for small businesses, as part of the service includes providing documentation that the materials have been properly handled. Companies that provide this service include:
- Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Tucker, GA, 770-934-0902
- Safety-Kleen, Norcross, GA, 770-662-5151
- MKC Enterprises, Doraville, GA, 770-457-1341
Atlanta Paint Disposal accepts latex paint for a fee. Visit their website at www.atlantapaintdisposal.com for details. Another HHW option for residents in metro Atlanta is CHaRM, the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials. Visit their website at livethrive.org/charm to find a list of items they accept and any applicable fees. To search for more options for your HHW, visit www.earth911.org. You can also email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing HHW Yourself
The processes described below involve either solidifying wastes for disposal via regular garbage service or using evaporation to "dispose" of the material. When using either method, be sure to work outside and wear rubber gloves and eye protection. Also, never mix more than one material when you’re preparing the items for disposal.
Solidification. The idea here is to make the liquids solid so they may be disposed of with your regular household garbage. Sawdust or shredded newspaper will work, but for larger quantities, you’ll want to get cat litter, cheaper at auto parts stores; ask for oil dry. Double-line a garbage can with plastic garbage bags, add some of the oil dry and then some of the liquid waste. (Don’t add oil dry to the liquid, as it may splash.) Work outside, away from access by children or animals. When the material has solidified, tie up the bag and place it in with your regular trash. Be sure the bag will not be so heavy that you can’t handle it, or that it ruptures. Wear gloves and safety glasses to prevent contact with the materials you’re handling.
Evaporation. This method works best for thin, flammable liquids, including gasoline and paint thinner. Again, work outside, away from access by children and animals. If there is only a trace amount of liquid in the container, simply open the top and let it evaporate. For any larger amounts, you'll want to accelerate the process. Use a disposable metal tray (an aluminum foil roasting pan is ideal) and pour a half-inch of liquid into the tray. The larger surface area will allow the liquid to evaporate much more quickly. Repeat this process until the liquid is gone and then recycle or reuse the containers, if possible.
The foil tray can be recycled with scrap aluminum in some collection programs. If you're leery of having the fuel-coated foil around your house until you can recycle it, then crush the tray, wrap it in a few layers of newspaper and put it in a sturdy plastic garbage bag. Then it can be disposed of with your regular household garbage.
Tips for avoiding this problem in the future include (1) trying to determine how much material (paint, insecticide, etc.) the job will actually require and not purchasing more than you'll need and (2) exploring less-toxic alternatives.
Please note that EPD neither endorses, nor recommends, the services of any specific company.