Our everyday housecleaning products can be toxic to the environment.
When you dump a can of paint thinner down the drain or throw out an old car battery with the trash, the impact on your water resources could be disastrous. The average household contains between three and ten gallons of materials that are hazardous to human health or to the natural environment. Collectively, these materials can poison our water if they are not stored carefully and disposed of properly.
What is a hazardous material?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency considers a substance hazardous if it:
- Can catch on fire
- Can react or explode when mixed with other substances
- Is corrosive
- Is toxic
Dangers of hazardous waste
The improper disposal of household hazardous wastes can cause problems for the entire community. Wastes can be explosive, highly flammable, or corrosive. For example, the acid from discarded auto batteries can eat away many substances. Some wastes are poisonous to humans or wildlife, while others can cause cancer, birth defects or other serious medical problems.
Where do we put them?
One of the worst ways to dispose of many hazardous materials is to “just dump them down the drain.” Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to handle certain types of hazardous wastes. Unfortunately, disposing of wastes in a landfill has not proven an effective solution either. Without special design, the modern sanitary landfill is not equipped to accept hazardous wastes. Hazardous wastes improperly disposed of in a landfill can pollute the environment through the groundwater, surface water and air.
A quick word on Phosphorus
Phosphorus is a nutrient essential for plant growth. It is found in lawn fertilizers, some detergents, and human and other animal waste. Too much phosphorus in water causes algal blooms and excessive aquatic plant growth. These plants, and the water quality problems that occur when they decompose, can harm fish and other organisms and limit our use and enjoyment of local lakes. While phosphate is banned in laundry soaps and hand dishwashing detergent, it is still used in automatic dishwasher detergents.
Please help keep phosphorus out of our water bodies by using phosphorus-free or low phosphorus detergents for your dishwasher. (Phosphate is the form of phosphorus found in detergents.)
What can you do?
Reduce the amount:
- Before you buy a product, read the label and make sure that it will do what you want
- Do not buy more than you need so that you will not need to dispose of the surplus
- Read and follow directions on how to use a product and dispose of the container
- Use safer substitutes when available.
- Try out one of our recommended alternative cleaners or homemade recipes for non-toxic alternatives listed below.
Dispose of the wastes properly
- Check the Westchester County Material Recovery Facility schedule to see when and where to recycle your household waste.
Alternative cleaners and recipes for your home
Five basic ingredients serve as the building blocks for many safe, non-polluting home-cleaning needs. Click on the topic below for non-toxic alternatives and recipes.