Seven Hazardous Household Products: What You Need to Know

Several household products can be hazardous if not disposed of properly. It's easy to do the right thing; here's how.

| Dec. 16, 2008

rechargeable batteries

Single-use and rechargeable batteries can harm the environment if thrown away. Rechargeable batteries are easy to recycle.


Several everyday, useful products — from batteries to paint — are hazardous if not disposed of properly. It’s unwise to simply throw these things in the trash: Toxins in these products leach into landfills and eventually get into our air and water. The good news is there are recycling centers for many of these products, and if there isn’t one near you, most cities have a Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) disposal site. Earth 911 allows you to type in the product you need to get rid of and your ZIP code, then lists drop-off locations in your area.

1. Rechargeable and single-use batteries

Batteries contain lead, nickel and mercury, all of which can damage the environment when thrown away. When batteries are incinerated at landfills, toxic substances enter the air and water. According to Earth 911, the average person throws away eight batteries a year. Rechargeable batteries reduce that number, but they eventually lose their ability to hold a charge and they too are made of toxic materials. Rechargeable batteries are one of the easiest items to recycle because most major electronics stores, such as Radio Shack and Best Buy, will recycle your dead batteries for you at no cost. Although there aren’t rules against throwing out single-use batteries, if you can avoid throwing them out by taking them to the HHW site that is the ideal solution.

2. Cleaning products

Most antibacterial cleaners, air fresheners, dishwasher detergent, oven cleaner, carpet cleaner and toilet/sink/tub/tile cleaners contain toxic ingredients that can seep into groundwater. Earth 911 says cleaning products pollute the air, increase smog formation, cause asthma and inhibit plant growth. Not only are most cleaning products bad for the environment, they can be bad for your respiratory health, too. To minimize these effects, dispose of the unused products at your local HHW site. An easier solution may be to buy or make your own greener cleaners. Regular soap is just 0.2 percent less effective than antibiotic soap in killing germs and not nearly as bad for the environment. Scrubbing your toilet, sink or tub with vinegar or lemon juice and baking soda works well. Candles or fresh air can do the same job an aerosol air freshener does. Baking soda and water is a safe and effective way to clean your oven or carpet. When shopping, look for dish detergent without chlorine and phosphate. There are also several lines of green cleaners, such as Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day and even SC Johnson makes a line called Greenlist.

3. Medications

7/6/2009 6:17:04 PM

As far as electronics go, the Goodwill in Louisville KY will not take them. Call before you donate!

2/2/2009 12:11:02 PM

HHW is Household Hazardous Waste Collection, which is held here twice a year. In other places, it is held once a year, every week, or whatever. Contact the recycling center in your area, or your sanitation department, for information about the when and where of your local HHWC.

hazel watson_2
12/23/2008 5:35:38 AM

What is the HHW you mentioned for recycling single use batteries?

12/22/2008 4:24:17 PM

RAYOVAC has rechargeable NiMH batteries in 4 packs for about $6.00 now at Walmart. The Charger I believe was $10.00.

12/18/2008 6:53:34 PM

Please don't neglect to mention that batteries and e-waste, especially, are oftentimes shipped to third-world and developing countries for recycling. There, if they are recycled at all-- oftentimes they are merely burned or left to lie about-- they are recycled under conditions that remain significantly hazardous to the environment and to the workers (which, of course, include children of a sickeningly young age, who must work in whatever employment they can find if they and the rest of their family are to have a meal).

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