Are you practicing proper household hazardous waste habits?

By Hannah Rines, Studio M staff //

During the holiday season, we make way for a surplus of food, family and festivities. Unfortunately, after all the holiday cheer, the aftermath ends up somewhere.

Photo by Dave Kellam via Flickr

Generally, it’s the garbage.

The holiday season is one of the busiest for Rutherford County’s and the City of Murfreesboro’s Solid Waste Departments.

“We deal with Christmas for three weeks,” said Mac W. Nolen, Rutherford County’s Solid Waste/Landfill Director. Nolen said first week leads up to the holiday as everyone is cleaning out their homes to make room for guests and seasonal festivities. The next two weeks consist of packaging materials; this also accounts for people traveling in and out of town.

“We are a very wasteful society,” said Nolen. “We will do almost half our electronics collection between late November and middle of January.”

People tend to have a surplus of excess in all forms, many of these forms are harmful and even dangerous.

So far this year, Rutherford County Fire and Rescue has reported that 29 house fires in Rutherford County were caused by hazardous materials.

“(The general population’s) definition of hazardous waste is what we call in the industry a ‘problem waste.’ People will bring tires, and there is nothing hazardous about it, they just think they can dispose of it right there,” said Joey Smith, Director of Solid Waste for the City of Murfreesboro. According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), a product is classified as hazardous if it is flammable, corrosive, reactive or toxic.

“We have a lot of hazardous waste stuff in our society that we deal with every day. Medication, prescription drugs … oil-based paint, diesel fuels, gasolines, antifreeze, all automotive fluids…electronics, televisions are all hazardous. (Most electronics) have a leaded glass screen, so the lead in the screen is hazardous,” Nolen says. “We collect electronics weekly. We have to pay to get rid of a tractor trailer-load of electronics every other week.”

Not only is it customary to throw out our old gadgets, we throw out anything that is of little to no use to us as a consumer anymore.

“Propane gas grill(s) … have a life on them … and then they can be recertified. Someone buys a new grill and they throw away the (old) tank … and there is nothing wrong with it. It costs us $5 to get rid of it,” added Nolen.

According to the EPA, other cleaners, batteries and pesticides are considered hazardous materials that require specific disposal measures. People are advised to monitor the use, storage and disposal of products that are hazardous to the environment and to the health of the household.

Inappropriate disposal of hazardous material includes pouring products down the drain, onto the ground, into storm sewers or just throwing them in the garbage. Hazardous chemicals entering the water supply not only affect residents but damage the health and prosperity of wildlife.

“Hazardous waste is a danger to your family, animals and property. It can affect you mentally and physically. Rutherford County Fire and Rescue recommends getting hazardous waste out of the home,” said Rutherford County Chief Larry Farely.

The TDEC warns consumers to only use a product for its intended purpose, never transfer the product into a new container and hang on to all information regarding use, storage and disposal. Consumers should follow all directions and not forget to seal up and store the product in a place with appropriate temperatures and out of the reach of pets and children.

The EPA has a list of alternative, more natural cleaning products as part of its Safer Choice program. The list includes eco-friendly replacements for drain cleaners, furniture polish, rug deodorizer, moth balls and more.

For hazardous materials already in the home, TDCE has a list of safe and effective ways to dispose of dangerous household chemicals here.

“Buy only what you need; that’s the biggest tip,” Nolen said. “Look at what you’re going to use, what are you using it for and buy only what you need.”

Hannah Rines is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism with interests in photography/videography, physical health and nutrition.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
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