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When you are at a doctor’s office or hospital and see a red bin full of used needles you immediately know to stay clear of it – and REALLY clear. No one wants to be exposed to the potential hazards that lie within. While medical waste is usually labeled very clearly, other hazardous materials might be present in your own home without you even knowing.

What Does Hazardous Waste Really Mean?

By definition, hazardous waste is any item or agent that has the potential to cause harm to people, animals, or the environment. That is rather broad. Here are some examples to clarify:

  1. Corrosives – car batteries, sodium hydroxide, and pool/fireplace cleaners
  2. Ignitable – acetone, solvents, and some dry cleaning chemicals
  3. Toxic materials – pesticides, oil, and transmission fluid, and some paint sludge
  4. Reactive substances – peroxides and cyanide

Cracking the Color Code

There is a Hazardous Materials Identification System that assigns various colors to hazardous materials to identify their level of danger. A chemical, substance, or agent is labeled at the top of the bar and then given a numerical ranking (0—4 with 4 being the highest risk) in four categories:

Blue: Health

Red: Flammability

Orange: Physical Hazard

White: Personal Protection

What If I Have Hazardous Materials In My Home?

  1. First, it is important to know if you actually have hazardous waste. If bottles or containers are not labeled with the color-coded system described above, be aware of the most common household hazardous waste items: chemical cleaners, paint and paint thinner, antifreeze, pesticides, and weed killers. Chances are you have at least one of these in your home right now. If in doubt with these materials, consider it hazardous.
  2. If you identify hazardous waste in your home, use caution when disposing of these items. They cannot simply be tossed into the trash for regular garbage pickup. Some municipalities have pick-up services for hazardous waste, whereas others offer drop-off facilities for such waste.
  3. Some hazardous waste, believe it or not, can actually be recycled. For example, community organizations may accept used paint. Auto garages also often accept used fluids from your car that can be used again.
  4. Attempt to use non-hazardous materials whenever possible. For example, avoid drain cleaner by using strainers to catch debris in pipes. There are also plenty of “green” cleaning products now available that eliminate the use of harsh cleaners.

While we can do our best to avoid the use of hazardous materials at all cost, chances are we are inevitably going to end up with some in our home at some point. The important thing is to be conscious of such materials and dispose of them safely to avoid danger to ourselves and our environment. This helpful website will direct you to your local recycling/hazardous waste disposal contact to help you understand your options when it comes to safely disposing of hazardous waste in your home: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-70153_70155_3585_4130-115394–,00.html.

Stay healthy, Michigan!