When we think of hazardous waste pollutants, we tend to envision big industrial companies pouring toxic waste into our rivers and seas. Or large corporations harming local wildlife through a disinterest in their environmental credentials. In films, books and on television it’s always the businessmen who are the environmental bad guys.
But the reality is that while companies are legally-bound to dispose of their hazardous waste safely, it is often ordinary homeowners who are discarding dangerous waste thoughtlessly. Yes, people like you and me are the real hazardous waste pollutants.
I’ll hold my hands up here. Although I’m vigilant with my recycling (I always throw my glass, paper and plastic into the right bins and try to re-use whenever I can), but I will stand up and say I’m guilty of being a hazardous waste pollutant.
Whereas businesses have the resources (and legal obligation) to dispose of harmful toxins safely, we as homeowners are under no such obligations. This means that often, even with all our good recycling intentions, we end up throwing away items that will cause serious damage to the environment.
Take a minute to think; how many times have you thrown batteries into the bin once they’ve run out, or light bulbs, or aerosols? All of these are categorised as hazardous waste and contain chemicals that are dangerous to us and the environment. It’s not just these – paint, cleaning products, WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), even used cooking oil are classed as hazardous waste. And this isn’t the entire list either.
So whereas it’s easier to think it’s just businesses that are polluting our environment, perhaps we need to look closer to home too.
The good news is that household hazardous waste can be simple to dispose of safely.
As with all waste, the best solution is to recycle it. There are many companies operating in the UK that specialise in providing a hazardous waste recycling service. There are also recycling centres located across the UK that specifically deal with this type of waste, your local council website should be able to provide information on the nearest one to you.
If you are unable to recycle, most councils offer a hazardous waste collection service. Once collected, the council will ensure that the waste is either recycled or disposed of safely and legally. Alternatively, there may also be sites in your area where you can dispose of unwanted items and where they will be destroyed safely.
As well as this, some retailers (such as mobile phone shops), offer customers the facility to dispose of their unwanted electrical goods to be either reused or disposed of properly.
As with all waste, the best solution is to cut down on the amount you produce. Fortunately, there are many ways to do this.
The easiest is looking first at your household cleaning products. There are a number of companies that now sell non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products. Not only are these better for the environment but many people with allergies and health problems find their symptoms are reduced using these products.
Next think about switching to energy saving light bulbs, if you don’t already use them. They not only use less energy than traditional light bulbs but also have a smaller amount of mercury in them and last longer, meaning you throw less away. Another easy change you can make is switching to rechargeable batteries where possible, again this will result in you not throwing so many away and, as a bonus, will save you money in the long-run.
We all have a duty to protect the environment and most of us already know the importance of recycling, but the majority of us need to think more carefully about the waste we throw away. It might take a moment to toss into a bin, but the effects on the environment can be lasting.
Written by Derin Clark, a freelance writer and blogger.
Image Credits – Jeremy Brooks and William Boncher