Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • March 2014
Written by  Jennifer Semrau

Household hazardous waste disposal

As spring approaches and warmer weather arrives (we hope!), many municipalities are beginning to plan their seasonal household hazardous waste programs. Whether a permanent facility or special “Clean Sweep” event, these programs provide an opportunity for residents to safely dispose of unwanted household hazardous materials.

What are household hazardous materials?

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), hazardous wastes are byproducts of society that can pose a substantial or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly managed. Hazardous wastes possess at least one of these four characteristics: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity. Businesses and institutions that use or generate hazardous materials are required to follow various laws and regulations regarding their disposal. Households are exempt from most of these regulations, but due to the very nature of these materials, all users should take care in the handling, storage and proper disposal of leftover or unwanted hazardous materials.

Household hazardous materials typically have one of the following words on the product label: “CAUTION,” “WARNING,” “DANGER,” “FLAMMABLE,” “COMBUSTIBLE,” “CORROSIVE” or “POISON.” Household hazardous materials are often found in the garage, basement, under your kitchen or bathroom sink, craft area, workshop or shed.

Examples of household hazardous materials include:

  • • Lawn and garden products such as insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, weed killer, rodent baits and poisons.
  • • Automotive products such as old gasoline, antifreeze, motor oil, brake, starter and transmission fluid.
  • • Home improvement products such as lead- and oil-based paint, spray paint, paint thinners, mineral spirits, varnish, stain, wood preservatives and driveway sealer.
  • • Cleaners such as oven cleaner, drain opener, aerosols, pool chemicals and toxic cleaners

Use of household hazardous materials.

When using household hazardous materials, take care to follow package directions. Wear appropriate protective equipment, such as gloves, safety glasses or a mask and/or use in a well-ventilated area. Do not mix different products or use one immediately after another (two different drain openers, for example). Chemicals may mix and cause a dangerous reaction. Always store products out of reach of children and animals and keep products in their original containers. Should an accidental poisoning occur, information on the product label will be crucial for 911 operators and first responders in delivering care.

Disposal of household hazardous materials.

To reduce the risk of accidental exposure or poisoning, consider purging old or unwanted household hazardous materials while spring cleaning. You may find that water-based products (such as latex paint) have already solidified if it has been years since the last use or there was not much product remaining. If a water-based product is dried out, it may be disposed of with the regular trash. Latex paint that is still liquid should be solidified for disposal. To speed up this process, oil dry, kitty litter, sand or latex paint hardener can be added to the paint. Once latex paint is solidified, it may go out with general trash.

When planning to dispose of household hazardous materials, first contact your local solid waste department or municipal office to learn about days, times and locations where material will be collected and any other considerations (non-acceptable items, fees, appointments, etc.). These details vary from program to program. You may also visit http://www4.uwm.edu/shwec/hhw/index.cfm for a searchable directory of household hazardous material programs. Secure lids on containers and transport items in a cardboard box with a strong bottom. Be prepared to leave containers on-site, as some programs cannot empty containers and return them to you. Follow on-site directions, signs, cones, etc. and remember — no smoking! All household hazardous material facilities and Clean Sweep events prohibit smoking due to the volatile nature of many hazardous wastes. 


Jennifer Semrau is the recycling specialist for Winnebago County Solid Waste in Oshkosh, overseeing the county’s recycling, hazardous material, container rental and sales/marketing programs. She is also the former president of the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin and recipient of the 2013 Christy Dixon Recycler of the Year Award. For more information, visit http://co.winnebago.wi.us/solid-waste or call 920-232-1850.

References: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Waste/Hazardous.html.

Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center. http://www4.uwm.edu/shwec/hhw/index.cfm.

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