by: Leslie Jones

The handling and disposal of Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) have become quite a conundrum over the past couple decades. Items that used to be thrown into the trash, poured down the drain, or dumped in the grass have been proven to pose a health threat when disposed of improperly.

“According to federal and Indiana statutes the term "hazardous waste" means a solid waste, or combination of solid waste that, because of its quantity, concentration, or physical, chemical or infectious characteristics may:  cause or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible, illness; or pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed of, or otherwise managed.”

Products that are considered HHW are safe when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but become hazardous when they are thrown away in a manner that may leach chemicals into the soil or groundwater. Some examples of common HHW include oil-based paints, cleaners, used oils, batteries, household cleaners, fuel, pesticides or other items that contain potentially hazardous ingredients.

Years ago people used to think that oil or other chemicals that were dumped into the dirt didn’t harm anything as long as they dug a hole first so nobody stepped in it. We now know that harmful chemicals can reach our freshwater sources and cause catastrophic damage to the soil. Such ingredients can be particularly harmful to wildlife, also. Smaller animals burrow into the soil, eat or drink from the ground, and they may come in contact with these contaminants. As other animals further up the food chain eat these smaller ones, they inadvertently consume the contaminants, too.

People can actually become sick from hazardous wastes that are dumped into soil when they are gardening or landscaping. These soil contaminants can then be tracked into the house. Even if the soil isn’t touched directly, the harmful chemicals can still be spread through the air when mowing the lawn or through natural means such as wind.

Pollution by improperly disposed of hazardous waste is completely avoidable and, since so much is now known about the harm that it causes, Household Hazardous Waste collection places have been set up around the area to assist you in your efforts to safely dispose of these items.

To find out about HHW Drop-off Days in Elkhart county, please call the Solid Waste Management District at 574-293-2269. The St. Joe County Solid Waste Management District can be reached at (574) 235-9971. Visit our website at for more information on trash disposal and recycling., (accessed January 24, 2014).