It’s your twice-a-year, floor-to-rafters marathon house-cleaning session. You’ve recycled all your newspapers, taken your soda bottles back to the market and disposed of that fern that’s been gone for a few weeks now. Cleaning is nearly done, except for that small pile of “what do I do with those?” materials in the corner.
Those questionable items might include a can of paint, or maybe a fluorescent bulb from the bathroom or an air conditioner that stopped working when the temperature hit 95 degrees. No matter what the items are, we’ve all been faced with the problem of disposing of potentially hazardous trash — we know we’re not supposed to just throw things like this away, but what exactly are we supposed to do with them?
Luckily, the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and your own building managers have the answers for just about any refuse disposal questions.
Can’t I Just Throw it Away?
We’ve all thought about just sneaking that old cooking thermometer into the trash or pouring that paint down the drain, but in reality, even the smallest amount of chemical waste can cause serious environmental problems.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ordinary American households generate 1.6 million tons of hazardous waste per year. As little as one gallon of used motor oil, improperly disposed of, has the potential to contaminate up to one million gallons of drinking water. The mercury in a thermometer, thermostat or fluorescent bulb can find its way into our drinking water or the fish we eat, ultimately leading to dangerous levels of build-up in our systems. Things like fluorescent light bulbs pose a two-fold threat—because of the gases within the tubes, breaking them can have explosive results, sending shards of glass flying. Also, they contain small amounts of mercury, used to excite the gases within the bulbs. What it all comes down to is that even the smallest action could have a potentially serious consequence.