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It's a Hard Knock & Hazardous Life - Sustainability and Safety at Home

This post highlights another aspect of sustainability that is critical to maintaining a healthy home and a healthy you.

In this post I will summarize issues with:

  • Hazardous Household Waste

  • Home Medical Waste

  • Home Dangers

Hazardous Household Waste

Hazardous Household Waste (HHW) is typically comprised of unused household products that may explode, catch fire, react with oxygen/other substances, or are generally not safe with long-term exposure. They can be especially harmful if not properly disposed of (1). This includes items such as:


·      Paint

·      Household cleaners

·      Bleach

·      Pool chemicals     

·      Pesticides

·      Motor Oil

·      Gasoline

·      Batteries

·      Drain Cleaner

·      Solvents such as paint thinners, benzene, acetone (nail polish remover), wallpaper removers etc.

·      Propane


Depending on your home or business this list could be shorter or longer.  It might make sense to do an inventory of which substances you have, assess their status (for example is something leaking, corroded, or expired and do you really need it?) and take appropriate action to make your space safer and healthier.    It goes without saying that the fewer chemical-based products you use the better.

NOTE: Don't forget about your efforts to reduce or eliminate plastics. Some companies are attempting to be more earth and life-friendly by packaging items without plastic. Seek these out. If you are on social media platforms follow those who are offering advice for living more sustainably without trying to sell something.


There are many ways to create a cleaner home/office while helping to keep the environment safe and clean.  Here are a few ideas.  Can you check any of these off your list? 


1. Buy only what you need.

2. Follow instructions carefully on how to dispose of the material.  Most municipalities offer resources to deal with hazardous waste. In my county there are hazardous waste events where you can bring the items you wish to dispose of safely. These resources also offer advice on handling dangerous substances.

3. Until you can dispose of the item properly, make sure the material is stored correctly.

4. Never mix materials as they may be highly reactive and can cause serious bodily harm.

5. Identify all cans, bottles, containers with the contents and keep them away from pets and children.  If the substance is highly reactive or toxic, it should not be kept in the house (e.g. propane tanks, linseed oil, oil-based paints, solvents such as toluene or benzene).

6. Consider donating leftover paint and other commonly used materials to charity organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. 

7.  Where you can, substitute commercial cleaners with ones you make at home using baking soda, vinegar, soap, Borax etc.  Searching for DIY cleaners in your browser will return more results than you can imagine. 

8. See if there are any ways to recycle batteries near you. My municipality has just started a battery collection program and it has been hugely successful.

9. Revisit your laundry cleaners. Remember, companies are in the business of making a profit at your expense. Do you really need fabric softeners, scent enhancers, and/or dryer sheets? Companies will try to convince you that their products are necessities but they aren't. Try using laundry sheets instead of bottled detergent. Substitute hydrogen peroxide for bleach and oxi-products. This is not only better for you but it is also cheaper.

NOTE:  This article does not contain information about electronic waste.  However, a document written by a colleague is attached in the Appendix for your information only. 


Home Medical Waste

This category of waste consists of expired or unused prescription or over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, salves, and creams.  Also included are syringes, wound care waste such as gauze pads, bandages, and blood-borne products, IV equipment, masks.  Special care must be given to anything sharp such as knives, syringes and/or blades.


Dos and Don’ts of medical waste disposal (2).


  • Keep waste containers away from children and animals.

  • Label plastic jugs or metal cans with "do not recycle" and the contents of the container.

  • Place sharp items in an opaque, puncture-resistant container with a lid.

  • Seal container lids with heavy-duty tape.

  • Seal trash bags with tape or wire / plastic ties.


  • Clip needles with a pair of scissors.

  • Label containers as medical waste.

  • Place loose sharp items in the trash or toilet.

  • Place sealed containers in with recyclables.

  • Recycle any sharp items.




 Anything in your home that can move, fall, break, cause a tripping/fall accident, or a fire is a home hazard. Dangers such as these become more common and serious as we age. 


Note:  this does not include dangers associated specifically with children. 


See reference 3 below for a list of hazards and how to avoid them.


The most common home dangers include:

1.    Space heaters and other fire hazards such as candles or matches

2.    Swallowing a poisonous substance or getting it on your skin, in your eyes etc. 

3.    Carbon Monoxide from blocked chimneys, heaters, and other fuel-burning

appliances that are not vented properly

4.    Toxic plants (esp for pets)

5.    Blind or curtain cords

6.    Ladders

7.    Electrical appliances and unsafe outlets

8.    Hoverboards

9.    Electronics

10.  Knives, other sharp cooking/ cutting implements

11.  Hot coffee

12.  Drawers left open

13.  Things left on stairs or in the middle of a floor especially in the dark (any fall hazard)

14.  Stoves, grills, ovens

15.  Dishwashers

16.  Plastic films that can suffocate

17.  Edible products that create a chocking hazard such as hard candy or a large bite of meat

18. Broken or chipped glass.

19.   Leaking alkaline batteries and lithium-ion batteries

This is very generic information.  It is a lot to think about and most of the things listed are intuitive.  However, it is always good to take stock of how safe your home or office is and fix anything that might need repair or dispose of anything not needed, useful, or working.  The new year is the perfect time to do this and it should be repeated annually.  

It is also important for medical professionals to have your designated contact(s) in case you become unresponsive as a result of one of the home dangers noted above. If you have a chronic medical condition that health professionals should be aware of, wear an ID bracelet or another identifier that describes your condition. This allows first responders to care for you quickly. It is also a good idea to provide a home key to someone you have frequent contact with and could get to you quickly to do a well-check if they are concerned about you and know you might be alone.


Although no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” —Carl Bard




Written by Veda Maany, Charlestown Township EAC.

What was once the latest and greatest device is now – e-waste. Do I throw it in the trash or do I take the extra effort to drop it off for recycling? Let’s suppose I do just throw this old device out (after I erase all my data!). Well, my e-waste is actually considered hazardous waste which includes toxic substances like lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants (BFRs). In the local landfill, these toxic heavy metals/substances would find their way into our ground or surface water that we drink, potentially causing DNA damage and birth defects. Or if the trash is incinerated, toxins will be released into our ecosystem as cancer causing dioxins or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Fortunately, there is a worldwide movement to create a safe, ethical, and globally responsible standard for handling e-waste. In fact, in the US, 25 states have passed legislation mandating statewide e-waste recycling. Most states use the producer responsibility approach, whereby manufacturers have financial responsibility for recycling their old products. Pennsylvania is one of those states that has such a law called CDRA (Covered Device Recycling Act), Act 108 of 2010, which started in January 2012. Covered devices include: desktop computers, laptop computers, computer monitors, computer peripherals, televisions, tablets, and e-readers. (Apple products and smartphones have their own recycling programs available in their respective retail stores). This also means there is a disposal ban on the covered devices; these devices and their components must be properly recycled and may not be taken to, nor accepted by, landfills or other solid waste disposal facilities for disposal. 

According to the law, manufacturers of devices for sale in PA must register their products with the DEP and establish ongoing recycling programs that offer covered device collection opportunities at no cost to consumers. Devices collected from consumers must be properly recycled at recycling facilities that maintain certifications from third party (non-governmental) international environmental organizations (R2, e-Stewards, etc). 

Here the device components are dissembled and sorted out for recycling or proper disposal. The manufacturers are also obligated to provide an annual report on the volume of products collected, which is available to the public. Ultimately it is up to us citizens to hold them accountable for their programs. We also want to make sure that we reward reusing first and recycling second as there are many entities – from large commercial recyclers to small, locally based non‐profits – who will reuse and refurbish used equipment for resale, non‐profits, and underserved communities. 

It is important to note that appliances like microwaves, phones, vacuums, etc may not be considered e-waste. Check your local ordinances to see if safe/recyclable solutions are offered. Not every county has a drop off program!

Although it is refreshing to know we have resources for proper device recycling, there still remains the consumer’s dilemma – do I really need the latest and greatest? Refuse, reduce, reuse, and lastly recycle. Don't forget about resources such as Terracycle who promises to recycle anything. Yes, there is a cost but unfortunately sometimes we must incur costs in the near-term to encourage behavorial change in the long term..




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