Recycling's Dirty Dozen: No. 3 Is Household Hazardous Waste

Recycling’s Dirty Dozen: No. 3 Is Household Hazardous Waste

  • Editor’s Note: This article is written by Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County Recycling and Education Director Mary S. Allen along with Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland, both of whom are members of the Illinois Task Force for Recycling Contamination Solutions. The article is part of a year-long a series on the “Dirty Dozen” of recycling — the 12 items that should NOT go in your recycling cart. Got local questions or concerns? Contact Jarland at at 630-208-3841 or

If you’ve painted your house, refinished your floors, or switched your lightbulbs from CFLs to LEDs, chances are you had some leftover products containing dangerous ingredients.

Paints, cleaners, batteries, and pesticides are among the common household materials that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as household hazardous waste. Here’s their definition:

“EPA considers some leftover household products that can catch fire, react, or explode under certain circumstances, or that are corrosive or toxic as household hazardous waste.”

Many types of HHW aren’t recyclable. For those products, the focus is on keeping hazardous materials out of the landfills and water supply. Let’s take a closer look at why proper storage and disposal of these common household products is so important.

Why Should I Care About HHW?

First, it’s the law. The 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act put rules in place for storage, handling, and disposal of HHW. If you dispose of it improperly (for example, pour it down the drain), you are likely breaking the law.

Second, HHW often contains toxic chemicals like cadmium, lead, and mercury. There’s a reason you can no longer find paint containing lead or alkaline batteries containing mercury. They present a health hazard to people, animals and the environment.

How Do I Identify HHW?

Unfortunately, household hazardous waste is rarely labeled explicitly. Some words to look for on the container include:

  • Caution
  • Characteristics
  • Corrosive
  • Danger
  • Flammable
  • Poison
  • Reactive
  • Signals
  • Toxic
  • Warning

If you see any of these words on the label, you’re dealing with a hazardous material. Store the product away from children and pets. Dispose of any remaining product through the proper channel. 

Where Do I Find HHW?

You’ll most often find hazardous household products in the garage, in the form of automotive fluids, paint, or pesticides.

They are also common in the kitchen (aerosol cans, cleaning supplies, fire extinguishers), bathroom (medications, nail polish, hypodermic needles), and living areas (batteries, electronics, thermostats). 

Who Accepts HHW For Disposal?

In Kane County, there are three methods for residents to dispose of their HHW responsibly.

Naperville HHW Facility Drop-off

Home Collection

  • Locations: This program is for the following eligible areas: the townships of Hampshire, Rutland, Dundee, Burlington, Plato, Elgin ​(a​ll towns within these townships are eligible to participate​); the cities of Batavia and Geneva; and Mill Creek SSA.
  • Contact: If you live in one of the above listed eligible areas​, call 1-866-373-8357 from 7 a.m. to 3​ p.m. to schedule an appointment. The ​city of ​Elgin has its own program. If you are in city limits, call the Elgin Residential HHW Hotline at 1-800-449-7587 for service.
  • For more info:

One-day Event

The above options are free programs for residents only. Business material is not accepted.

HHW Collection for Businesses

For companies that offer pick-up service for businesses, schools, and institutions (for a fee), visit this page of the Kane County Recycles website and scroll to the bottom of the page.

What Happens to HHW?

Some forms of household hazardous waste are actually recyclable, such as gasoline, motor oil, antifreeze, as well as medications, fluorescent light bulbs and mercury thermostats.

HHW that isn’t recycled or reused is typically put in a special landfill or incinerated through a process that significantly limits the release of pollutants to the air. Scrubbers collect emissions at the incinerator smokestack, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules.

Take the time to dispose of household hazardous waste properly. It will protect your family and property from contamination and improve the local environment.

Read The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Series!