Where Does Your Household Hazardous Waste Actually Go?

WLSSD’s Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Facility is an important community resource available to district residents to help keep the St. Louis River and Lake Superior safe and clean. In a previous blog, I discussed how improperly disposing of HHW could mean those chemicals would end up in Lake Superior. But what happens to them when you DO dispose of them properly by taking them to our HHW Facility?

Well, the simple answer is it depends. Different types of waste are treated differently. Of course, many of you already know what happens to a lot of it: Anything still usable is put in our Re-Use area where residents can pick up household products free of charge! The rest has a more interesting story.

Corrosive liquids are taken to a facility to be neutralized. Products like drain cleaners and pool chemicals can be corrosive to certain materials, or be harmful to people or the environment. Once neutralized, they no longer pose a threat.

Batteries also need to be disposed of properly. It is important to note that it is all right to throw alkaline batteries in the garbage – such as your standard AA and AAA batteries. However, rechargeable batteries, small button batteries, or other less common battery types must be disposed of properly. Acids are removed from batteries and neutralized, and metals are recycled. Mercury, lead, nickel, cadmium, and silver oxide are just a few metals that can be repurposed after processing.

Other common household products like paints and solvents can end up in a number of different places. Some solvents can be mixed with fuel to power cement kilns. Used motor oil can be reprocessed and used as fuel for ships, or as a lubricating product.

Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFL’s) and tube fluorescent lamps are also hazardous because they contain mercury. They are safely transported to a facility where the bulbs are placed in a vacuum-sealed container and mercury is removed and recycled for other purposes.

As you can see, the many different products that can be brought to our HHW facility end up in a lot of different places where the valuable materials can be reused for other purposes. And if these things end up in a recycling facility, they WON’T end up in Lake Superior. Thanks for doing your part!

By Sam Lobby, Environmental Program Coordinator