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Hazardous household waste
In 2014-15 Australia produced around 5.6 million tonnes of hazardous waste, and this is increasing at a rate of approximately 9% a year.
Many garages, backyard sheds, laundries, bathrooms and even kitchens across Australia contain chemicals that can cause serious health hazards to you and the environment. Hazardous waste includes products such as motor oil, brake fluid, kerosene, mineral turpentine, pesticides, herbicides, batteries, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), oven cleaners and pool chemicals. Some of these products can ignite at relatively low temperatures, or react with air, water or other substances, and explode or produce toxic vapours.
These products cannot be disposed of in your regular garbage collection, and for many hazardous wastes, it can be illegal to do so. This is because they can leak into the environment and waterways and cause serious health risks.
It's important to manage hazardous waste and dispose of leftover chemicals correctly at a hazardous waste centre. Check with your local council or Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou for collection services available in your area. Victoria has a mobile toxic waste service which travels to regional areas.
Before disposal, consider whether items can be re-used or recycled. You may be able to reduce the number of toxic products you need to throw away by changing your shopping habits.
The chemicals you use in your garden can be potentially dangerous to the environment. There are natural alternatives to pesticides, weedkillers and fertilisers which are healthier for you and your garden. If you can't use a natural product, choose the least toxic alternative and buy and use only as much as you need.
To reduce your use of chemicals, consider whether you need your property to be completely pest-free. By correctly identifying the pest before you buy a pesticide, you can ensure you buy the right product for the job. If you cannot identify the pest, your local garden centre might be able to help.
There are also natural and effective insect repellents and rodent traps that don't need chemicals to work. You can reduce the attractions for pests around your home by keeping the kitchen and areas where pets are fed clean. Avoid putting out food scraps for birds or possums to reduce the number of rodents in the backyard. Your compost bin should be well-sealed to stop rodents and keep flies away. Mosquitoes need water to breed, so make sure you change the water in the bird bath regularly, clean out the gutters so water doesn't accumulate and use a screen on rainwater tanks.
Don't re-use your chemical containers or wash them out. Recycle through a hazardous waste centre. When you take chemicals to the disposal site, keep them in their original container with the lid tightly fitted. Check your local council for your nearest recycling point and what it accepts. For collection services in your area, check with your local council or Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou. Victoria has a mobile toxic waste service which travels to regional areas.
Many cleaning products we commonly use in our bathrooms, laundries and kitchens contain harmful irritants and dyes. Oven cleaner for example contains many toxic chemicals. In many cases natural household cleaners can be used with great results. Many of these break down harmlessly in the water and soil without damaging wildlife and plant life.
Fortunately there are lots of simple, cheap and effective products which can be used for cleaning your home. For example, a paste of bicarbonate of soda and water baked onto your oven walls and then brushed off is an effective degreaser. You can wash your clothes, wash and polish your floors, clean the windows, disinfect drains, freshen up rooms and much more, all without using really harmful products. If you're concerned about germs, using a disinfectant only when required and substituting natural products in between is a good option. There are plenty of books or online sources with household hints that are either non-toxic or less toxic to us and the environment. For example:
- Bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, borax and salt are all effective, cheap and healthy alternatives.
- As you use up your old cleaners, replace them with safer, more bio-friendly products.
- Re-use cleaning rags and the protective gloves needed for chemical cleaning.
Many householders are use fluorescent lamps (including compact fluorescent lamps—CFLs) as an energy-efficient lighting option. They are safe to use but contain small amounts of mercury, so take care when cleaning and disposing of them at the end of their working life.
Check with your state environment agency, local council or Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou for information on where to recycle CFLs and other mercury-containing lamps in your local area. Some states have introduced household chemical collection programs or drop-off points that accept small quantities of CFLs and fluorescent tubes for recycling.
Paint can be toxic to the environment. If allowed to run into our waterways it harms fish and wildlife; and if dumped into the garden it can pollute soils. When renovating:
- buy only what you need
- use leftover paint on the next project or give it away to friends, neighbours or community groups
- reduce the amount of water you use to clean paint rollers, brushes and trays
- re-use the water you use to clean your painting equipment until the job is finished.
Paints, thinners, turpentine, mineral spirits and solvents should be re-used as often as possible.
Solvent and acrylic-based paints can be recycled using Paintback. Paintback collection centres are located in every state and territory. There are a list of eligible products that can be dropped off at collection centres. Paintback accepts a maximum of 100 litres a visit, stowed in containers of not more than 20 litres.
Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou also has paint drop-off locations.
If your house was built before 1970, there's a good chance that it contains lead-based paint which, if disturbed, can be hazardous to your health. If you're doing any renovations or maintenance that could disturb paint containing lead, you need to take care to protect yourself, your family or pets from even small amounts of dust or chips of paint. Recommended precautions are outlined in Lead Alert—Six step guide to painting your home. The Lead alert facts: Lead in house paint factsheet has further information about lead-based paint.
Cars, trucks, farm machines and boats all need regular oil changes. If you change the oil yourself, the used oil should be disposed of correctly. Disposing of used motor oil down the drain, on your garden or in landfill has serious effects. Oil leaks into waterways and it is very harmful to the environment.
By pouring your used oil back into an empty oil container and taking it to your local used oil facility for recycling, you're helping to conserve a valuable resource. There are many uses for recycled oil including bitumen-based products and as an additive in manufactured products. It can be cleaned and re-used.
If you change your car or boat oil yourself, reduce the amount of oil you use by buying the quantity the manufacturer recommends and storing any remainder until the next time you need it.
Contact your local council or check their website for information about your nearest used oil facility or Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou for collection services available in your area.
Some used oil recycling facilities will also take your oil filters, oily rags and plastic oil containers. Fuel, anti-coolant, lubricants and degreasers may also be collected at a hazardous waste centre.
In 2007-08 approximately 64% of tyres went to landfill or were illegally dumped or stockpiled. If this trend remains unchanged, up to 680 million tyres will be sent to landfill over the next 20 years.
This litters our landscapes and waterways and takes up scarce and valuable landfill space. It's also a cause for health and environmental concerns—fires in stockpiles can release toxic gases and pollute waterways. Tyre stockpiles also provide breeding habitats for mosquitoes and vermin.
Tyres that are dumped or sent to landfill also represent a loss of potentially valuable resources. Tyres are generally made from rubber, steel and textile—these resources can be recovered and used for many other purposes such as:
- tyre re-treads
- race venue safety barriers
- brake pads
- road repairs.
When buying tyres, part of the purchase price of new tyres in many states includes disposal of your old tyres.
You can search Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou database to find out where you can recycle tyres and other car parts in your local area.
Most batteries contain heavy metals which are harmful to the environment if not disposed of correctly. The heavy metals may leak into the ground when the battery erodes which contributes to soil and water pollution.
Household batteries are the most common form of hazardous waste disposed of by households, with 95% of people disposing of batteries in the rubbish collection.
When buying products consider:
- buying toys that don't need batteries
- whether it can do without a remote control
- connecting to the mains power instead.
If you need to buy batteries consider rechargeable batteries. Although slightly more expensive, they will soon pay for themselves and prevent short-life batteries going to landfill. Also check to see if you have batteries in the drawer before buying more.
You can recycle household batteries, see Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou for drop off points in your area. The batteries are recycled into new products such as street lights and car parts.
Car, mobile, rechargeable, smoke alarm and button batteries can be recycled or go into hazardous waste collections. If your council doesn't offer pick up you can search Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou to find a collection centre near you.
Lead acid batteries
All used lead acid batteries, including car batteries, are hazardous because they contain lead and/or sulphuric acid which is corrosive. Lead is very toxic and lead compounds can be absorbed into the body through breathing or ingesting.
Car batteries can be processed to recover the lead. Recycling lead uses less energy than mining and refining metals in the first place. It also removes lead from the environment.
You can search Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou to find out where you can recycle car parts and car batteries in your local area.
Be sure to store all hazardous products carefully with labels intact, in an upright position and, in a cool, dry environment. Store away from:
- sources of heat and moisture
- ignition sources (such as electrical equipment)
- power points
- combustible materials
- children and animals.
Check how old items are—some chemicals become more volatile with age. If the label is damaged or missing, treat the product as dangerous and dispose of it accordingly.
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