Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
July, 2010
Regional Report

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Counties hold Household Hazardous Waste disposal events for materials such as herbicides, pesticides, propane tanks and more.

HHW Disposal - Doing the Right Thing

I tuck a pair of disposable latex gloves in my rear pocket. I'd just loaded the car trunk with a trashcan filled with flaking boxes and rusted cans of old pesticides and herbicides. Most had been left in a shed I now use for tools. I'd stored them for seven months, waiting for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania's Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) and Electronics Collection.

The air inside the car is heavy with chemical smells. I grimace and envision picking out each container of toxic garden supplies by hand. Self-sorting is the usual drill for regular recyclables: glass, plastic, paper/cardboard. Not so for HHW, I learn. This is serious material.

What Is HHW?
Municipalities throughout the United States organize Household Hazardous Waste collection programs where citizens can properly and safely dispose of dangerous or toxic materials. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines HHW as "leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients." Products such as paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides that contain potentially hazardous ingredients require special care when you dispose of them.

These are dangerous materials. They're not to be poured down the drain, into the storm sewer, on the ground, or put out for routine trash pickup. Improper disposal can contaminate our water supply and our soil. Exposure can be unhealthy, unsafe for us individually as well as the larger community.

At Temple University's Ambler campus parking lot, two long lines of cars inch forward at a snail's pace. Most everyone is patient. This IS the RIGHT thing to do. Why is it taking so long, I wonder.

Twenty minutes pass before I see the collection process, coordinated on the huge lot. Two lanes of cars break into three, generously spaced lanes- HHW, Electronics, Both. I ease into the shortest lane - 1 for HHW.

Dozens of workers toil this hot Saturday morning on even hotter asphalt. There are trucks and trailers, collection equipment, heaps of electronics- computers, obsolete analog TVs.

Serious Business
Why is HHW collection such a slow process? "We're concerned about the safety of the people," says Christopher Kaasmann, Recycling Coordinator, Waste System Authority of Montgomery County in Norristown, PA. "We don't want people getting hit by cars, getting hurt period. They stay in their cars," he adds. Worst-case scenario, Kaasmann explains is "the potential for fire or explosion when handling ignitable, reactive materials. It's never happened, but it's possible."

This is one of 25 collections held in Montgomery, Philadelphia, Delaware, Chester and Bucks counties from April through October. The multiple counties coordinate to get the best price from disposal companies competing for a three-year contract, Kaasmann says. In 2008, Montgomery County collected 800,000 lbs of electronics and HHW, costing $280,000 for disposal.

Hands Off
My car's at the collection point; one of 1,500 cars expected today. I pop the trunk. Two workers lift out the trashcan and box of empty propane tanks; another waves me on. To my left, others separate and sort the detritus. My hands are clean; gloves stay in my pocket.

Kaasmann looks forward to the day when no collection is necessary. His take-away message: "Garden without using toxic, hazardous chemicals."

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