Frequently Asked Questions About Household Hazardous Waste

How do I identify a potentially dangerous product?

A product is considered hazardous if it is:

Flammable : capable of catching fire easily,

Corrosive: capable of irritating or eating away at living tissue,

Reactive: reacts violently with air, water, or other chemicals, or

Toxic: poisonous to living organisms.

What types of products might have hazardous characteristics?

Examples of flammable products include many solvent-based materials such as varnish strippers, enamel paints, and driveway sealants.

Some household items that may be corrosive include acidic or caustic cleaners such as toilet bowl cleaner, oven cleaner, and drain opener as well as batteries, especially car batteries.

Reactive type chemicals can include strong peroxides, ammonia, chlorine based products, and mothballs.

Toxic materials include antifreeze, pesticides, and wind shield washer fluid.

Is there a good way to spot potentially dangerous products?

The most effective way to spot potentially dangerous household chemicals is to read the label. Manufacturers are required by law to inform consumers of any possible risks to human health. Additionally information concerning potential risks to the environment are also included.

Signal words to look for:

CAUTION- the product is mildly toxic (1 oz. to 1 pt. is the fatal dose) or a possible skin irritant.

WARNING- the product is moderately toxic (1 tsp. to 1 tbsp. is the fatal dose) or can cause skin injury with prolonged contact with skin or has a moderate chance of catching fire or reacting with another chemical.

DANGER- the product is highly flammable, explosive, and/or reactive or is capable of causing injury on contact with eyes or skin.

POISON- the product is extremely toxic (a taste to 1 tsp. is the fatal dose).

How dangerous is it to have hazardous chemicals in my house?

Most modern products if stored properly and used according to directions should not put you, your family, your pets, or the environment at risk. You should use extreme caution when using a very old product because consumer safety standards were much less stringent in the past. For example, liquid mercury was once used as medicine. Additionally, many products change after being exposed to hot and cold as well as humidity. The best idea for antiquated products is to bring them to a household hazardous waste collection event. Some things you can do to prevent products from harming anyone:

  • Use a product only for its intended purpose.
  • Keep products in their original containers.
  • Keep all pertinent information regarding use, storage, and disposal.
  • Follow all safety precautions.
  • Keep container tightly sealed and in a secure location.
  • Never mix products.

What can I do to shop smarter?

When buying household products in the future there are some important considerations:

  • Buy only what you need.
  • Buy a non-hazardous or the least hazardous product for the job, i.e., choose a product with a "caution" label over one with a "warning" label.
  • Buy multi-use products instead of highly specialized items that might go unused for months.
  • Buy pesticides and similar items that have a localized application, e.g. roach bait discs instead of fumigants.

Is there a way to safely dispose of dangerous household chemicals?

There are several safe and easy ways to dispose of many of your unwanted items.

Used oil, oil filters, anti-freeze, and automotive batteries

Latex paint should be used up, given away, or dried up and disposed of in your regular garbage. Use kitty litter, sawdust, or shredded paper to speed the drying process.

Oil-based paint should be used up, given away, or carried to county paint collection facility (if available).

Computers and televisions can often be recycled locally through your local solid waste department or through a private recycler. Check the phone book for electronic recyclers.

Batteries - Alkaline batteries may be disposed of with your regular garbage.
    Rechargeable batteries and cell phones can be recycled. Find a collection site near you by visiting the Call2Recycle website. Also, several home improvement stores take power tool batteries. Lead acid batteries can be recycled locally through your solid waste department or at many automotive retail stores (ie. AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts, Napa).

Ink jet cartridges can be recycled at most office supply stores and post offices.

Regular household cleaners should be used up or can be washed down the drain. If you are on a septic tank, you may want to only pour out small amounts at a time.

Propane cylinders can be recycled locally through your solid waste department.

Smoke detectors should be returned to the manufacturer. Look for the address on the device.

Explosives and ammunition should safely be disposed of by contacting your local police and fire departments.

Needles and sharps should be placed inside a sturdy plastic container with a screw on lid (such as a laundry detergent or fabric softener bottle) and disposed of in your regular garbage. Bend the tip of the needle to prevent puncture.

All other products should be safely stored and brought to any Household Hazardous Waste Mobile Collection event in the state or to a permanent facility in Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis.

What does the law say about household hazardous waste?

The Tennessee General Assembly passed the Solid Waste Management Act of 1991 (T.C.A. §68-211-829), and T.C.A §68-211-828 also provides for Competitive grants for the collection of household hazardous waste at permanent sites.


Robert Wadley


This Page Last Updated: June 1, 2023 at 11:52 AM