HHW collection programs, whether in the form of waste drives or permanent collection sites, are excellent tools for communities to safeguard their drinking water and other natural resources—and also to provide a way for households to easily and safely dispose of potentially dangerous materials.

By Lisa Neuberger

Anywhere people live, you’re likely to find household hazardous waste (HHW). These are products that may be marked with the words CAUTION, DANGER, TOXIC, WARNING or other words that identify the contents as potentially hazardous to consumers. Many of the same kinds of wastes that would have to be carefully managed, counted, documented and manifested if generated by a business are exempted from hazardous waste regulations when disposed of by a household.

However, careless handling of hazardous materials, even when done by a household, may be harmful to people and the environment. HHW can be dangerous to the household if not stored and handled correctly. Children and pets may come into contact with dangerous chemicals or swallow poisons. HHW that ends up in the regular trash can also injure sanitation workers who may not expect to encounter it.

Improper disposal includes pouring liquid waste down the drain, onto the ground or into storm sewers, which can contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems, or pollute receiving waters. Throwing HHW into the trash means it will end up in a landfill and could contaminate surface water or water that is used as a source of drinking water.

That’s why more and more communities, both large and small, are working to assist their residents in disposing of HHW safely. HHW collections are nothing new—some communities have been collecting HHW for years. However, as states begin to prohibit the landfilling of materials such as electronic wastes and used oil filters, and consumers are becoming more aware of their environmental footprints, there is a growing demand for safe, inexpensive disposal options.

Before a community can host a successful HHW collection, it must decide how to pay for it and how to promote it. Waste collections are expensive, both in time and in management, transportation and disposal costs. Some collections are paid for through taxpayer funding, some through grants and others charge residents a fee for using the service. However, although the service is paid for, citizens also need to be made aware of it and encouraged to take advantage.


Two Examples of Successful Approaches to HHW Collection

HHW Drive—Lexington, KY

Lexington, KY hosted an HHW drive on Saturday, April 23, 2016, that saw more than 1,200 vehicles drop off HHW. “Getting the word out is a big part of the success of the program,” said Angela Poe of Lexington’s Public Information and Engagement Division of Environmental Services. Poe said the event’s main promotional tool was a monthly newsletter sent to all Lexington households. In addition, the City actively promoted the event on its Web site and through traditional media outlets, as well as social media.

Throughout the day, event organizers posted wait times on Facebook and Twitter, encouraging people to drop off waste. According to Poe, in the past, people have told her that waiting in line to drop off waste is the worst part of a HHW drive. However, this year, the event was so well organized that wait times were never longer than 10 minutes.

Lexington required anyone dropping off waste to complete a survey, which was a condition of the state grant that provided partial funding for the drive. The survey included questions on the media effort as well as check boxes to indicate the type of waste being disposed of. The City will use the surveys to gauge community support for a permanent drop-off site and/or support for a collection fee.

In the end, the City collected a total of 151,000 pounds of HHW, which included 26,000 pounds of latex paints alone. They were able to donate the paint to the Habitat for Humanity Restore for recycling and reuse. They also collected 7,200 pounds of electronics—even though the City already offers a permanent drop-off site for e-waste. “Which just goes to show,” said Poe, “that people are looking for a one-stop drop-off” for HHW and other recyclables.


Permanent HHW Collection Site—Kearney, NE

The city of Kearney, NE, on the other hand, found itself responding to citizen demands for HHW solutions. Household Hazardous Waste Coordinator, Shauna Petzold, said that while they had run an HHW program for 20 years, people kept asking about what to do with waste such as leftover paint. As the program continued to grow, it became clear that they needed a permanent structure.

The Kearny Sanitation Department opened its HHW facility on March 30, 2016, with the help of a $220,000 Nebraska Environmental Trust grant. The new collection site provides a way for citizens of Kearney and Buffalo County to drop off a wide variety of potentially toxic wastes.

Petzold said that now that the facility has more room, they can collect more materials. For instance, they hope to begin collecting used vegetable oil soon.

The HHW operation accepts waste 24 hours a day. “Other people in this field say we are crazy to have an unmanned drop-off site,” remarked Petzold. “But for the most part, people are really honest.” She hedges her bets with a security camera, though. If someone drops off something they shouldn’t, she can always pull up the video and see who dropped it off and record the license plate number.

The site boasts a paint can crusher purchased with funding provided by the Central Platte Natural Resource District. Petzold hopes that they will be able to purchase a light bulb crusher and spray can puncturer in the near future.

With all HHW programs, employee safety is a concern. But the larger building allows for better ventilation, Petzold says. And flammable, reactive or unidentified materials are carefully stored in an explosion-proof building on the property.



HHW collection programs, whether in the form of waste drives or permanent collection sites, are excellent tools for communities to safeguard their drinking water and other natural resources—and also to provide a way for households to easily and safely dispose of potentially dangerous materials.  But successful HHW collections are not easy; they involve detailed planning, plenty of publicity and a reliable source of funding. In addition, state and local restrictions may apply. | WA


Lisa Neuberger specializes in workplace safety and environmental topics at J. J. Keller & Associates (Neenah, WI). She writes articles for J. J. Keller’s manuals and newsletters with timely environmental news and topics for safety and environmental professionals. Lisa can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected].


Residents of Kearney, NE, asked for a permanent solution to the problem of household hazardous waste.

Photos courtesy of the City of Kearney Sanitation Department.

According to EPA, the average household generates more than 20 pounds of HHW every year and can accumulate as much as 100 pounds at any one time. Examples of HHW:

  • Paints
  • Paint thinners
  • Solvents
  • Batteries
  • Gasoline
  • Used motor oils
  • Pool chemicals pesticides
  • Cleaning products
  • Nail polish and nail polish remover
  • Hair spray
  • Glues
  • Lighter fluid
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Fertilizers