Spring Cleaning in Your Garage: What to Do with Garage Waste

garage cleaning

Spring cleaning the garage is not an activity that many of us look forward to; however, it has to be tackled. With some preparation and the right tools, it is possible to complete the task quickly, and to safely dispose garage waste in the correct manner.

It is imperative that long-sleeved protective clothing is worn when cleaning your garage – especially during hazardous waste disposal. This can be anything from an old shirt and pair of pants to overalls you use for painting. There are often toxic chemicals and preparations stored in the garage, and wearing protective clothing will protect your skin from spills and splashes.

It is also very important to wear good quality, heavy duty gloves when handling chemicals and irritants.

Generally speaking, non-toxic garage waste can be put either into the trash or be recycled. However, the rules are very different when it comes to handling hazardous waste.

Hazardous Waste Disposal

It is imperative to approach recycling in the garage with due care. There are so many potentially environmentally unsafe items and chemicals kept in the area that it is important to dispose of these correctly.

Leftover household products that are generally stored in the garage often contain reactive, toxic, ignitable, or corrosive ingredients. Cleaners, paints, batteries, pesticides, and oils that contain hazardous ingredients require to be disposed with special care.

There are various different options in terms of recycling garage waste. Many communities offer one or more of these disposal methods:

  • Permanent exchange or collection. Some communities in the U.S. have year-round special facilities available to collect household hazardous waste (HHW). These facilities usually incorporate exchange areas for automotive and cleaning products, leftover paints, solvents, pesticides, and other materials.
  • Special collection days. In communities that do not have a year-round HHW collection system, there may be specially designated days to collect waste at a central location. This ensures its safe management and disposal.
  • Local business collection sites. In communities that have neither a permanent collection site nor a designated collection day, waste products may be able to be dropped off at local garages and businesses for proper disposal or recycling.

Types of Hazardous Waste Found in the Garage

  • E-waste. Old electronics such as phones, cords, computer monitors, and TVs contain toxic components. Computer monitors and TVs may contain mercury paste and gas as well as leaded glass. Computer circuit boards can potentially contain hazardous levels of cadmium and lead. Many retailers and manufacturers will accept used goods in order to dispose of them correctly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that recycling just one million laptops saves the annual energy equivalent of the electricity used by 3,500+ US homes.
  • Household batteries. These can be dropped off at any Call2Recycle point, and should never be put in the trash. Small “button” batteries may contain lithium, silver, or mercury. Flashlight batteries may also contain mercury if the date of manufacture was before 1992. Mercury is extremely toxic when absorbed through the skin, swallowed, or inhaled. Rechargeable batteries can contain nickel and cadmium. Every one of these substances can pose a health hazard.
  • Paint products. Latex paint, oil-based paint, caulk, wood stain, wood preservative, and spray paint should never be poured down the drain, as they contain toxic chemicals such as mercury that can get into the water supply and potentially cause kidney and nerve damage. Older paints may also contain lead.

Prior to taking your old paint products to a drop-off facility, let the paint dry out by leaving the lead off. Since paint is not a food-grade material, it should never be put in the recycling curbside bin.

  • Motor oil may contain toxic metals as well as organic compounds, and should not be poured away. In most U.S. states any garage that offers oil changes is required to also accept used oil.
  • In some areas of the U.S.,tires are recycled by using them as supplementary cement kiln fuel, whereas in certain municipalities, tires can be collected on trash day or by special arrangement. Another option is to find a garage that sells tires, and to ask them to dispose of your old ones.
  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency states that only 12 percent of all waste antifreeze in the U.S. is recycled each year. Used antifreeze must not be thrown away with the trash. It can be recycled at the generator’s facility or transported to a facility for reclamation. Antifreeze contains the poisonous ingredients methanol, ethylene glycol, and propylene glycol, which can cause coma and even death in humans and animals.
  • Transformer and fluorescent bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). These generally contain mercury, and can release harmful amounts into the atmosphere if broken. Those manufactured before 1978 may contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which can adversely affect the liver, and may even be carcinogenic. These must be disposed of via HHW collection.
  • Household cleaners. These include, drain cleaner, bleach, ammonia, tile/shower cleaner, rust remover, and more. Ammonia and bleach, when mixed together, react to create a deadly gas. Therefore, you must be careful when disposing of these chemicals to always do so separately.

Products that are usually put down the drain during use can be disposed of in the same manner. Ensure that you do this slowly while simultaneously running water down the drain.

Never dispose of corrosive or highly toxic materials in this way. These should be kept for household hazardous waste collection day instead.

Waxes, metal polishes, wood polishes, and other solvent-based cleaners should also be saved for HHW day.

  • These are both toxic and flammable and should be stored safely until they can be discarded with hazardous household waste.
  • Aerosol cans. Since many spray cans contain propellants in addition to chemicals, they are usually considered as hazardous waste. When an aerosol can is empty, it is considered safe to dispose of in the trash. However, partially full or completely full cans can explode if punctured or exposed to heat, so they should not be disposed of in the trash. Take these spray cans to a local hazardous waste collection facility.
  • Old Fireworks. If you have old fireworks stored in your garage that you are looking to get rid of, it probably comes as no surprise that you cannot recycle fireworks. To properly dispose of fireworks, some local fire and police departments accept fireworks. If not, the best way to dispose of fireworks is to take off the fuse, then soak them in water. You should also double-bag the fireworks before placing them in the trash.
  • Automotive batteries. Also known as lead acid batteries, automotive batteries contain both lead and sulfuric acid, which are both highly toxic. Acid can cause severe skin burns, and lead can threaten groundwater supplies. For this reason, all lead acid batteries must be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility or recycled. Some distributors or retailers may accept automotive batteries.
  • Glues and Adhesives. These can seep into the environment when disposed of incorrectly. When disposing these materials, let them dry out by opening the containers. If the product is in a tube, slit the tube open for drying. To dry larger amounts, spread the adhesive on cardboard or newspaper. When the glue or adhesive is completely dried, you can place it in the trash.
  • Materials containing mercury. Thermometers and thermostats contain mercury, and must in no circumstances be disposed of in household waste due to the potential of them breaking and releasing the harmful element into the environment.

When mercury seeps into the environment, it can contaminate our bodies of water, such as our lakes, and kill fish and other wildlife.  Dispose of these type of thermometers during your local hazardous waste collection days. Nowadays, there are mercury-free thermometers, so it is a good idea to switch from mercury-based thermometers to the mercury-free version.

  • Garden chemicals. Pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides are designed to kill unwanted microorganisms, plants, animals, or insects. These products are generally toxic to humans and pets. Also, many are not biodegradable and can accumulate in the environment, causing contamination to food supplies and groundwater. Again, these should be disposed of as part of a household hazardous waste program.
  • Swimming pool chemicals. These generally contain calcium hypochlorite, acids, and chlorine. These materials are corrosive and may pose a fire hazard. They can also cause injury or burns if ingested or if they come into contact with the skin.

Spring cleaning your garage may take time, effort, and a significant amount of planning; however, it is good to know you’re keeping your space clean, tidy, and healthy as well as responsibly disposing of any hazardous chemicals.

After cleaning, and throughout the year, remember to dust, sweep, and hose down the floors on a regular basis, and to keep floor space clear at all times to avoid any potential chemical spills. When you keep on top of recycling in the garage, your once-a-year purge will become so much easier.

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