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Get rid of your hazardous waste

You can’t throw it out anymore

Posted: July 26, 2008 12:06 a.m.
Updated: September 26, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Hazardous waste, like the items shown, can be dropped off at one of six permanent collection centers throughout Los Angeles County. Hazardous waste, like the items shown, can be dropped off at one of six permanent collection centers throughout Los Angeles County.
Hazardous waste, like the items shown, can be dropped off at one of six permanent collection centers throughout Los Angeles County.

If you could get by the clutter, a walk past the shelves in your garage could be a trip down memory lane.

"Ah, yes, the weed killer I bought two years ago and never got around to using. Oh, and there's the heavyweight gear oil for the old Bronco I don't own anymore. Umm-humm -- the leftover lime green paint for my daughter's room, the color it was two paintings ago. There's paint thinner, dried-up wood stain, half-used bug sprays and, lookie there, I wondered where that rat poison got to."

Not only is this litany of leftovers taking up space and, generally, making you feel guilty about your many half-baked project ideas, it represents a danger for young children and maybe even a fire hazard.

According to Joe Reilly, senior engineer for the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, firemen are especially wary of garage fires because of all the flammables and chemicals often stored in them.

But you're a good enough citizen to know you can't dump these things in the trash or pour them into the storm drain, right? So what's a green-intentioned homeowner to do?

Drop it off
In Los Angeles County, the solution is pretty easy. All you have to do is drop your Household Hazardous Waste or your electronic waste (e-waste) off at one of the six permanent collection centers, or at one of the many one-day collection events held at various locations around the county on Saturdays.

Reilly explained that the current, county-wide HHW collection program began with a pilot program in 1988.
"We only did a handful of events." Then, in 1992, funding became available through the collection of "tipping fees." As trash trucks arrive at landfills throughout Los Angeles County, they are weighed, and 86 cents is charged for each ton of trash they drop off. This money goes toward various county environmental programs, with 56 cents for each ton going specifically to the HHW collection program.

"This funds the L.A. County program and partially funds the L.A. city events (at the city's permanent collection facilities), so they are open to all county residents," Reilly said. And he noted that in 2007, roughly 67,000 carloads of HHW were collected.

County-wide, those figures include: 34,000 gallons of oil, 310,000 gallons of paint, 9,800 car batteries, 7,400 gallons of antifreeze, 22,600 CRT units (televisions and computer monitors), and 900,000 pounds of miscellaneous electronic waste (everything except the CRT screens).

Recycle and reuse
"Eighty-five percent of the materials collected are recycled in some way," Reilly said. The rest, such as pesticides and poisons, are sent out of state for destructive incineration, where only carbon dioxide and water vapor are the result.

Motor oil is refined for reuse. Water based paints are recycled and used in graffiti abatement programs.

Oil-based paints are used as alternative fuel in industrial furnaces.

Reilly said that acids and bases are "neutralized," and that 100 percent of the electronic waste is "deconstructed" into its component materials, such as wire, plastic, metal and glass. These resources are then sold to make new products.

Reilly emphasized that the HHW and e-waste collections provide an invaluable service, especially with our limited landfills filling up. Besides, HHW collection is state-mandated.

"You can't throw this stuff out anymore," he said.

Did you know?
Reilly noted that, as people become aware of the HHW collection program, it's an educational experience.

While they know they can bring in paint and pesticides, they soon realize there are many other items they can, and should, bring in. "They say, ‘Oh yeah, I can bring that.'" These other things include fluorescent light bulbs, medical sharps and medicines.

"Fluorescent light bulbs are full of mercury, and they need to bring them to the HHW collection," Reilly said. He added that, unfortunately, this includes the energy-saving mini-fluorescent bulbs.

While you may not see it on the Web site, Reilly said that medical sharps from household use are accepted at the collection events.

"Put them in a sharps container or an empty bottle of Clorox, with a little bleach left in it," he said.

Though your doctor may have always told you to flush old medicines down the toilet, this is a no-no these days. Pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, aren't removed at sewage treatment plants, so they get passed onto the environment, affecting fish and other wildlife. "They're chemicals, too," Reilly said.

He said that, if someone has any doubt about bringing in a household waste item, just go ahead and bring it in. "We'll take care of it." He explained that there are chemists at the collection centers who can figure out what any substance is (though it helps if you keep it in the original, labeled, container).

"We don't take explosives, ammunition or anything radioactive," Reilly said.

Aside from those last prohibitions, whatever you bring into the collection will be "sorted by its chemical nature and disposed of properly. Basically, by six o'clock, everything is on its way," Reilly said.

He wanted to remind anyone coming to a collection event that, in the interest of efficiency and safety, the trained workers remove the waste from your vehicle while you remain inside. The workers will take whatever appears to be waste, so you shouldn't have anything you want to keep in the vicinity.

"It's a fast process, and once you drive away it's almost impossible to get anything back," he said.


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