When you roll open the garage door on Saturday morning to clean and organize the garage, be ready to stumble onto a few hazardous materials like half-empty paint cans, old tires and used motor oil.
So what are you supposed to do with all that stuff?
Hazardous materials disposal varies widely among city and county programs, according to Julie Muir, zero waste program manager at Peninsula Sanitary Service’s (PSSI) Recycling Office in Stanford, CA.
“Always check your city and county programs first” before you get rid of anything potentially hazardous, says Muir.
Meanwhile, check out 10 things below you need to know about hazardous materials before you dig into the dark corners of your garage:
1. Don’t dump used motor oil.
Used oil from just one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Don’t dump used motor oil into the grass or bushes. Instead, drop it off at your city’s hazardous waste facility or local oil change shops, which are often required to take used oil to recycle for a small fee.
2. Not all glass is recyclable.
Different types of glass have different melting points and unmelted glass can clog up recycling machines, says Muir. “We only accept food and beverage glass,” she says. Mirrors, window and decorative glass need to be wrapped in paper for trash collectors’ safety and placed in bags. Donate vases, crystal and other glass items to thrift stores.
3. Antifreeze is toxic to pets.
Antifreeze will kill your pets if they lap it up, and it’s a regulated hazardous waste. Don’t pour it onto your grass, down the drain or into your septic system. Take used antifreeze to your local hazardous waste collection facility. Auto parts stores also may offer antifreeze recycling services.
4. Don’t throw car batteries away.
Auto batteries, which contain toxic lead that can contaminate groundwater, are easy to recycle. Some auto stores charge a modest fee on battery purchases that you receive back when you return the dead battery. You can also check your city or county’s website for a drop-off location.
5. Not all paint cans are hazardous.
You’ll need to take half-empty latex and oil paint cans to your local hazardous items disposal facility. However, if the paint is all dried up and there’s only residue in the can, it’s okay to put it in the trash, says Muir. If you have full cans of paint, donate them to Habitat for Humanity ReStore or a similar organization.
6. Throwing away certain items is illegal.
It’s illegal in California for small businesses and residents to throw away fluorescent lamps, household batteries and other “universal waste” a category that includes mercury thermostats and cathode ray tube devices from computer monitors and televisions. Check online for your state’s laws on hazardous materials.
7. Cleaning up after mice can make you ill.
When cleaning up rodent waste, wear a HEPA mask (sold at most hardware stores) to avoid inhaling contaminated dust, says Maryellen Nugent Lee, senior applicator with A-ECO Clean Environment. Also wear latex or other protective gloves.
If you see droppings in lots of clutter, call a professional, says Nugent Lee: “There may be live rodents or the remains of carcasses in your belongings, and a professional is equipped to deal with whatever situation turns up.”
8. Tire disposal differs by state.
Each state has regulations and programs for used tire disposal. Texas recommends disposing of used or scrap tires through bulky item pickup collections or taking them to an appropriate landfill. On the other hand, Illinois bans whole tires from landfills. Search online for your state’s used tire program.
9. Throw away only empty aerosol cans.
Don’t toss aerosol cans labeled “toxic” or “flammable” in the trash or the recycle bin unless the can is empty, says Muir.
10. Somebody else wants your hazardous stuff.
If you don’t want to take unwanted bottles of cleaning solution or half-empty aerosol cans to your city’s household hazardous waste facility, post them on Freecycle.