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Photo by Eddie Berman

Each year, Americans generate 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That's around 30 lbs. of paint, pesticides and cleaning products per household per year. Some of it—after careful preparation—can safely go to the landfill or down the drain, though you should always read the labels for disposal advice. When in doubt, call the municipal or county department that deals with waste or environmental concerns, or contact your garbage-collection company. The safest bet is to bring hazardous waste to an appropriate waste-collection site in your area. For the location of one near you, call 800/253-2687, or go to General tips for proper disposal:

  • Always keep material in original containers, and never peel off the label, even when disposing.
  • Do not flush harmful waste if your home is hooked up to a septic system.
  • Never flush substances, such as petroleum products, that are not water soluble.
  • Do not pour waste down a basement drain or storm sewer. These often lead to waterways.
  • Avoid mixing chemicals together when storing them or when pouring them down a toilet or sink.
  • Flush ammonia and bleach separately. Wait three hours between flushings.
  • Flush waste during the day so it won't sit in pipes overnight. Use a large volume of water to thoroughly rinse it down the drain.
  • Wear proper gloves and eye protection during disposal. Pour slowly, and avoid splashing the materials.

The following hazardous wastes are often accepted at landfills:

  • Empty aerosol cans
  • Auto-body repair products
  • Fertilizer without pesticides
  • Empty, triple-rinsed pesticide containers.

If solidified, these products may also be acceptable:

  • Paints (mix with kitty litter; let dry)
  • Solvent-based polishes
  • Adhesives and epoxies
  • Solvent-based cleaners
  • Thinners.