Get rid of your toxic garbage — safely

Photo ©

Do we know what to do with our toxic trash? A study released by Statistics Canada suggests no. Despite environmental dangers, a large part of the population is still disposing of hazardous waste in their household garbage or flushing harmful substances down the drain. Worse yet, many people are putting themselves and their property at risk by needlessly storing items because they don’t know what programs and resources are available.

Ready to clean up? Here’s how to get rid of common household waste:


Many websites recommend drying out old latex paints (with or without the help of commercial drying products) and throwing them in the trash. However, there are more environmentally-friendly alternatives available today. Consider donating old paint to a community art program, theatre group or high school. Want to save some cash on your next home improvement project? Swap your unwanted leftovers for free paint or stain at a “paint exchange” program offered at many waste management facilities.

Paint can be recycled and made into new paint products by companies such as Boomerang in Quebec, but don’t put old cans in your blue box! Check with your local hazardous waste facility about paint recycling programs in your area. Many paint manufacturers also accept old or unused paint – your local paint store should have the details.

Oil-based paint and solvents, auto paint and paint older than a couple of decades should go to a hazardous waste facility due to the chemicals they contain.


While many people are switching to rechargeable batteries to reduce waste and save money, used batteries still present a challenge. In fact, the Statistics Canada study reports that only a quarter of people know how to properly dispose of them. The majority of Canadians threw batteries in the garbage, while others stored them in the house. Old batteries can combust, explode or leak dangerous acid.

Join those in- the-know and take batteries to an electronics recycling program, manufacturer or hazardous waste depot.

Light bulbs

You may not know it, but the fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) we use to conserve energy contain small amounts of mercury and should stay out of your garbage. This toxic metal shouldn’t end up in landfills or ground water — it can be collected and sold for reuse.

Where to take them? Find out if your local retailer has a “take-back” program to collect the bulbs. If not, take them to your local hazardous waste facility. Wider adoption of CFLs and increased pressure from consumers will hopefully translate to more programs being offered at major retailer chains over the next couple of years.

Computers, appliances and electronics

The rapid development of new technologies means consumers are quickly replacing favourite gadgets – and leaving a trail of outdated items that contain lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and non-biodegradable materials. If you’re part of the 33 per cent of Canadians who have these items taking up storage space in your home, try these solutions:

• Sell or offer for them for free through a classified ad. There are many online sites like and Craigslist that offer this service at no cost.

• Donate items to local charities, community organizations, schools and long-term care facilities. (Be sure to call ahead to find out about any requirements).

• Look for a non-profit group such as the Electronic Recycling Association that offers pick-up and drop-off services. They do the work of fixing the equipment and donating it where it’s needed.

• Check with the manufacturer or retailer: many companies have free or low-cost recycling programs. Where fees are required, they usually cover shipping expenses and packing materials.

In addition, most provinces and municipal governments have electronics recycling programs, and many communities have special events to collect and distribute these items. Find out about any fees before you take your items.

Money saving hint: Ask your retailer about recycling when you are replacing an item. These programs are often free for current customers.


Unused prescriptions and expired over-the-counter medications are lurking in our cupboards. Throwing them in the trash means they end up in a landfill where they can leak into the groundwater – that is if an animal, child or black-market seller doesn’t find them first. Flushing them down the sink or toilet was once thought to be the safest solution, but recent research showing trace amounts of medications in the water supply is enough to make anyone think twice.

So what can you do with your old medications? Many pharmacies and doctor’s offices have disposal and recycling programs available, but call ahead! Not all places accept these items, and some have special programs and initiatives available at certain times such as a yearly program or monthly drop-off date. If all else fails, take them to your hazardous waste facility. This includes your pet’s medications and any herbal remedies or vitamin supplements as well.

Needles and syringes require special handling. Most areas require that they are placed in a tightly sealed, puncture-proof, labelled container before being taken to a waste management centre.

Other products

Not sure if a substance can go to the curb or not? Look for any warnings and cautions on the label, including the traditional symbols denoting flammable, corrosive, poisonous and explosive substances. Pesticides, aerosol containers, paint solvents, motor oil, bleach and propane tanks are a few of the many products that must go to a hazardous waste facility. Be sure to take products in their original packaging (with labels). Your municipality’s website will have a list of what they will or will not accept.

Where to go for more information

• Your city’s website has information about hazardous materials, local waste facilities and drop-off or pick-up services. The location and contact information is also in the phone book or

• Got questions? Many cities offer a hotline you can call to get answers.

• Provincial government websites contain information about their services, programs and initiatives — like Ontario’s Orange Drop program.

• Manufacturer’s websites offer information about their offerings. For example, Apple and Toshiba have sections on their websites outlining their program. You can call a customer service representative, take advantage of online chat features or talk to someone at your local store.

• Many organizations such as Earth 911 have information on identifying, properly storing and disposing of hazardous waste.

If you must store items, read up on how to do it safely to minimize risk. If you can’t find a charity, non-profit group or manufacturer to take your items, always defer to your local hazardous waste facility. Finding the right facilities and programs may take a little time and effort, but keeping hazardous materials out of our water and air will benefit everyone in the long run.