Do you have old paint, batteries or fluorescent light bulbs sitting around the house or in the garage? You know that you shouldn’t throw them away, yet you’re not sure how to properly get rid of them?
After Oakland North did an article on recycling electronics, we thought a guide on recycling batteries and other hazardous waste would be helpful, too. Disposing of these toxic items in Oakland is actually a lot easier than you might think. Here’s a step-by-step guide to everything you need to know.
What can’t you throw away?
The list of what you can’t throw in the regular trash or in the recycling bin is fairly extensive. In addition to regular single-use AA, AAA, C or D batteries, which contain toxic heavy metals like cadmium, you also can’t throw away rechargeable batteries like the kind found in laptop computers, digital cameras, cell phones, electric toothbrushes and other rechargeable devices.
According to the City of Oakland’s Public Waste Department, 600 million single-use batteries are sold in California every year but only a small percentage are actually safely recycled. It is now state law to properly recycle all types of batteries and fluorescent lamps and light bulbs.
You also can’t throw out items that contain mercury—also a toxic metal. These include fluorescent lamps, tubes and light bulbs; high intensity discharge (HID), metal halide, sodium and neon light bulbs; old-style sealed glass thermostats; the kinds of electrical switches that can be found in older washing machines, sump pumps, electric space heaters and clothes irons; pilot light sensors, which are in some gas appliances like stoves, ovens, clothes dryers and water heaters; novelty items such as greeting cards that play music when opened and sneakers with flashing lights in the soles; and mercury thermometers.
In addition to batteries and items with mercury, you also can’t throw out household cleaners and sprays, paints, stains, varnish, solvents and adhesives, pesticides, fertilizers, non-empty aerosol cans and car products such as motor oil, oil filters and batteries.
If you have a product you’re unsure about, check the label to see if it says “danger,” “warning,” “caution,” “poisonous” or “flammable”—all most likely mean that the product is toxic and can’t be simply tossed out. Of course, if you use up all of the product it’s alright to recycle or throw away the empty container once it’s cleaned out.
Why can’t this stuff be thrown away?
In February, 2006, California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control began prohibiting the disposal of these items via the trash after concluding that they are hazardous waste and that letting them go to a landfill would threaten both human health and the environment. If any of the heavy metals or toxic chemicals leaked out while in a landfill, the surrounding soil, ground water and surface water would be contaminated.
Where can you get rid it?
Knowing your house is filled with all of these potentially toxic items can seem a little daunting, but the city of Oakland and Alameda County make it extremely easy and free to dispose of them safely. There are several options to choose from in Oakland.
The simplest option for single-use batteries is to do curbside recycling along with your trash and other recyclables. All you have to do is put your used batteries in a sealed clear plastic bag and set them on top of your garbage bin, no labeling is necessary. If you have small camera or coin lithium batteries, put those in a separate plastic bag. Waste management will ensure these batteries are properly recycled.
Also, all Oakland libraries and Parks and Recreation centers have “battery recycler” collection containers where you can drop in your spent single-use batteries. If you have camera or coin lithium batteries, those must be put in a clear sealed plastic bag before putting them into the container. You cannot recycle rechargeable batteries here.
For every other type of toxic item—like paint, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent lamps, and household chemicals—you can drop them off at any Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste facility for free. They take single-use batteries too. Oakland’s facility is located on 2100 East 7th Street and is open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm.
A host of stores will also take some of this hazardous waste. All Radio Shacks take rechargeable batteries for recycling, so does the Grand Lake Ace Hardware store. Most Walgreens stores accept single-use batteries and Whole Foods also takes single-use batteries along with compact fluorescent light bulbs. For more local stores that take these items click here. If you specifically want to recycle rechargeable batteries, click here to find a place near you.