How to keep household chemicals out of landfill

Common household chemicals can be toxic. But there’s a way to recycle them responsibly.

Chemicals are part of our daily lives. They sit under the kitchen sink, in cupboards and on dusty garage shelves.

Most of us have left-over household cleaners, half-filled paint tins, old motor oils, lightbulbs and batteries because we’re unsure how to dispose of them correctly.

We know these can’t go in the yellow lid bin for recycling, and we’d never pour them down the drain. However, there’s confusion about what should be done with them.

If household chemicals end up in the yellow lid bin, they risk contaminating other recyclable items. They can cause problems in the red lid bin too. Incorrectly discarded chemicals can spontaneously combust or leak into soil, pollute groundwater and threaten our wildlife.

Here’s what you need to know about disposing those household nasties the right way.

Drop off your unwanted chemicals at a Chemical CleanOut event

Together with local councils, NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) runs regular Household Chemical CleanOut events to help you dispose of your household chemicals safely. Over the past decade, inner city residents have safely disposed of 267 tonnes of household chemicals at these events.

By dropping off your unwanted household chemicals, not only will they be disposed of correctly, but they can often be recycled.

"Many materials collected at CleanOut events can be recycled or reused with special processing. By coming along to Chemical CleanOut, residents will not only work towards reducing pollution, they will also be helping to recycle," said NSW EPA acting director resource recovery, Amanda Kane.

The next free drop-off event in our local area is on Saturday 17 October, 9am to 3.30pm at Alexandra Canal depot. Everyone is welcome - you don’t have to live in inner Sydney to take part.

What to expect on the day

Now’s the time to check your bathroom, go through your kitchen and rummage through the shed. Check out what we’ll accept. We’ll take care of the rest.

To ensure the health and safety of our employees and communities, physical distancing measures will be in place and our team will be wearing masks and gloves.

On arrival, you will be required to provide you details for contact tracing purposes and complete a quick survey. If you’re unwell, stay home. Don’t worry if you miss this event – the NSW EPA holds other Chemical CleanOut events throughout the year that you can attend.

This Chemical CleanOut event is a drive-through, contactless service and this year it’s even more important that you stay in your vehicle. Our team will show you where to drive and will unpack items for you. By staying in your vehicle, you’re helping reduce the spread of germs, and we’ll help you get on your way faster.

With that in mind, here’s how to get ready:

  • Transport the items in tubs, sealed and in the boot, so you don’t breathe anything in and so our team can quickly and safely unpack items for you
  • Don’t mix anything and leave the sorting to the pros
  • Keep your chemicals in their original containers to make them easier to identify. If you want to be extra prepared, set up a dedicated tub to collect used products until it’s time to drop them off
  • If you’ve lost the original label, just label the item with ‘unknown chemical’.

People walking or cycling can access a separate drop-off area.

What happens to your chemicals after you drop them off

There’ll be a chemist on site, to identify any unknown chemicals and ensure all materials are correctly categorised. At the end of the day, the chemicals will be safely transported to a waste facility where they’ll be weighed and sorted into 43 different categories. They’ll be prepared for recycling or safe disposal.

Many familiar chemicals from our homes get a second lease on life:

  • Oils are processed into lubricants
  • Paints are mixed with other waste solvents and used as an alternative fuel in cement kilns, while the metal containers are recycled
  • Gas cylinders have remaining gas taken out, and the steel in the gas bottles is recycled. Undamaged bottles are tested and made available for hire, so they’re reused rather than recycled.
  • Lead, acid and plastic in batteries are recovered and recycled.
  • Fluoro tubes, which contain mercury, are crushed to isolate the phosphor powder from the glass. This powder is processed to capture any mercury, which is then sold for industrial uses. Leftover glass and metals are recycled.

Have some household chemicals to dispose of? Recycle them on Saturday 17 October, 9am to 3.30pm at Alexandra Canal depot.

Remember you can also reduce your overall use of chemicals or switch to less hazardous products.

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