Dispose of Chemicals Safely

Many communities offer special collection days for chemical disposal

I’ve managed to do a pretty good job over the years eliminating chemicals from my garden shed. Yet in spite of my best efforts, they tend to keep showing up. I’ve accumulated pesticide containers from a prior gardening life, inherited my dad’s collection when they moved from a home to an apartment (so that I could dispose of them properly) and even uncovered a stockpile after moving into our current home.

It’s scary to think how many people are out there like me…or worse (at least in this case). I really have worked hard to properly dispose of the chemicals that I will never use again. But it’s amazing how quickly they add up. Collectively I can only imagine how many leftover containers are sitting around the sheds, garages and basements of the world!

In our very busy and time-starved lives, it would be easy to pour the excess liquids out into the street or down a drain. But we know better than that, don’t we? Pesticides poured into the street feed directly into storm drains which feed into streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. When pesticides reach waterways, they can harm fish, plants and other living things.

Similarly, they should never be poured down the sink, tub, toilet, or into the sewer or street drain. Pesticides can interfere with the operation of wastewater treatment systems and many municipal systems are not even equipped to remove all pesticide residues.

So what can we do to dispose of chemicals properly and safely? According to the Environmental Protection Agency and other sources, it is suggested the best way to dispose of small amounts of excess pesticides is to use them, apply them (according to the directions on the label) or give them to your neighbor so they can use them to treat a similar pest control problem. Although this is certainly a valid way to consume the product, I find it hard to suggest using more pesticide chemicals in your landscape simply to use it up.

Most local municipalities have a department that deals with waste management and can advise you on how to dispose of excess chemicals other than by using them. Some even have a household hazardous waste collection program. Once or twice a year, many cities or counties provide a place for you to take such chemicals where they can be properly and professionally disposed of.

You can find more information on these programs by contacting your local government agency. You may find the appropriate department listed under solid waste, public works, garbage, trash, or refuse collection. In the United States, there is a telephone number that you can call to find information and sites for recycling and disposing of hazardous household waste. The number is 1-800-CLEANUP. An automated recording will guide you through the process and the number is accessible 24/7.

Of course you can always (and should) read the product label for disposal information. However, be aware that state and/or local laws may be more restrictive than the Federal requirements listed on the label. You should check with your local authorities before disposing according only to information listed on the product label.

According to the EPA, empty containers can be disposed of with your other solid waste after proper rinsing. A triple rinse is suggested before disposing. First, fill the container ¼ full with water, close the lid tightly and vigorously shake. The rinse water should be applied to an area needing treatment. Never pour the contents down the sink. Repeat the process two more times. Do not triple rinse pesticide containers in a kitchen sink.

Some municipalities do not allow even empty pesticide containers to be disposed of with solid waste. Instead, they are treated as household hazardous waste and treated accordingly as mentioned above.

There’s a saying we use around my house to reduce the clutter; “When in doubt, throw it out”. Although that applies to much of the junk we accumulate, it does NOT apply to pesticides; at least in the same sense. Now you know, disposal of pesticides should never be acted upon without taking the proper precautions. Our health and environment depend on it.


Joe Lamp'l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. Off camera, Joe dedicates his time to promoting sustainability through his popular books, Compost Confidential blog, podcast series, and nationally syndicated newspaper columns. Follow Joe on Twitter

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  1. says

    We should always keep in mind that there are some safety precautions that must be followed. This is one way that we can do in order to show our care for our environment. Also, we must take note that what we throw up would always come back to us.

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