Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Don't throw away that light bulb

Since 2002, households and small businesses have been exempt from the Golden State's rule that has mandated larger operations properly dispose of what's called "universal waste," but effective Feb. 9, that changed.
It's now illegal in California for households and any other entity to improperly dispose of a new list of widely used, but potentially harmful items containing mercury and other heavy metals that often wound up in garbage pails or recycle bins.
Households must cart universal waste items -- along with a host of hazardous waste, electronic waste and other potentially harmful, everyday items to sanctioned disposal centers.
According to California's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), mercury is a neurotoxin when it is released into the environment by improper disposal. Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause permanent brain, kidney and developing fetus damage. Short term exposure may damage lungs and cause nausea, vomiting, increased blood pressure, skin rashes and eye irritation.
What is universal waste?
Most of it is found in products commonly used throughout the home and eventually outlive their useful life cycles. Ironically, some of the items with potentially deadly substances are designed to put a smile on your face.
Novelty items like greeting cards that play music, shoes with lighted soles and certain maze games contain mercury.
Other universal waste items include AA, AAA, C cell, D cell, and button batteries, such as those used in hearing aids and small toys; fluorescent light bulbs, lamps, tubes as well as high intensity discharge (HID), metal halide, sodium and neon bulbs; and certain thermostats and thermometers.
Electronic devices ready for disposal -- also commonly referred to as "e-waste" or "electronic waste" -- also can be universal waste carriers. They include a host of consumer electronics from the era of New Technology, including computer monitors, processors and other computer innards, televisions, cell, cordless and regular telephones, pagers, printers, video cassette recorders (VCRs), radios and microwave ovens.
There are many more. Pilot light sensors, electric switches, barometers, blood pressure devices, stoves, ovens, water heaters, space heaters, clothes dryers, and furnaces frequently use mercury switches. Flammable propellants such as butane can remain in aerosol cans if not completely empty. If a can is marked "flammable" or "toxic" it should not be tossed into the trash unless it is completely empty of all contents.
Most local jurisdictions already have recommendations or rules in place for the proper disposal of universal waste products as well as hazardous waste. Such rules are nearly as ubiquitous as recycle centers. Like the California law, the rules come with help or instructions for proper disposal.
An aptly named website, Earth 911 is a portal that will direct you to your local universal waste disposal centers as well as recycle and hazardous waste disposal centers while helping you learn which goes where. California offers the similar Zero Waste California website with similar information for Golden Staters and a partner website eRecycle.org to help hammer home the point.


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