got a date recently by calling one of those 800 numbers. I’d
never done things this way before, but I really didn’t have
much choice. I was told to meet at the Albany city dump by
7 PM last Thursday. I marked my calendar and thought about
what I should bring along for the encounter.
On the appointed day and time, I carefully placed a few select
items I thought appropriate in the trunk of my car and headed
off for my Rapp Road dump rendezvous. I wasn’t particularly
excited about driving around town with the materials I’d placed
in my trunk. As I drove up Washington Avenue I had the unsettling
thought that if someone should rear-end my car the local hazardous-materials
squad might need to be called. Another quick-flash fantasy
had the state police pulling me over, checking out the trunk
and turning me over in handcuffs to the FBI as a suspected
terrorist. I drove cautiously.
At the entrance to the dump, a woman was waiting for me. She
smiled and asked my name as she flipped through pages of names
fastened to a clipboard. I had to sign next to my misspelled
name. After checking me in, she directed me to pull over to
an area near a variety of large containers where a crew in
rugged work clothes and tough industrial gloves waited for
I pulled up near the group and opened my trunk. A worker in
coveralls, fluorescent vest, hat, protective glasses and rubber
gloves took my collection of poisons and brought them over
to be sorted for disposal or recycling. I had successfully
gotten rid of some of the toxic junk that had collected around
my house, and made it to the dump without incident.
My trunk of toxics included an old container of a copper-dust
pesticide, two metal gas cans that held vintage fuel for a
long-gone lawn mower and a chain saw that hadn’t been used
in years, a bright-yellow plastic container with some anti-freeze
inside, a bag of aerosol paint cans, and a house-paint can
about one-third full of household batteries. I hadn’t done
a toxic check around the house for a couple of years and was
surprised to find as much as I did.
I had called the Albany landfill a few weeks back and inquired
about the date for the next drop-off day for household toxics.
I found that the system for bringing such substances to the
landfill had changed since the last time I had used the program.
One could no longer just show up, display ID and drop off
the material on designated days. Now, I had to call a toll-free
number (1-800-494-2273) and register in advance to bring in
the goods (The city’s Web site still presents the old instructions
and little guidance about substances covered). The person
who answered my call told me that I could drop off my toxic
material on July 10 between the hours of 4 and 7 PM.
Separating certain hazardous household products from the waste
stream accumulating at Albany’s “Mt. Trashmore” in the Pinebush
is a good idea. It allows for some of the more damaging and
dangerous materials one might otherwise dump in the trash
to be isolated and handled with appropriate caution. This
also reduces the exposure to such substances for trash collectors
and the community (via dripping garbage trucks).
It has been estimated that the average American household
contains 25 to 50 pounds of hazardous waste, and generates
15 to 20 pounds annually. With such volumes of hazardous materials,
it seems particularly prudent for localities to keep their
residents from just tossing it in with the curbside trash.
Albany could improve the efficiency of keeping these hazardous
wastes out of the trash and the environment by providing better
information to its residents through its Web site about the
program and what is—and is not—collected. In addition, a complementary
effort to reduce toxic household waste should be as important
as isolating it from the trash flow.
All of this requires a substantial effort to educate the public
about what household hazardous wastes are and to present alternatives
that can be used to avoid bringing such substances into households
in the first place. By reducing the toxic materials brought
into the home, residents reduce their exposure to these substances
as well as what they pass on as trash. It seems simpler and
healthier to reduce use than try to capture and isolate such
substances once they’re on the loose.
In a number of household areas there are less-hazardous substances
readily available. Cleaning and yard-care products are two
areas where various safe alternatives are available. I use
white vinegar extensively in my kitchen and bathroom for cleaning
surfaces, to wash windows and, preceded by some baking soda,
to keep drains running. I buy the vinegar in gallon high-density
polyethylene (no. 2) plastic jugs that the city still recycles
(though Albany’s Web site incorrectly lists no. 7 instead
of no. 2). Instead of using a specialized chemical brew for
each cleaning need, I just use vinegar, which is biodegradable
and can safely go down the drain or into the compost heap.
I have reduced to a minimum the hazardous yard-care substances
around my home by using compost, organic fertilizers, integrated
pest-management techniques and human-powered tools.
To find out about hazardous- household-waste collection programs
in your community, contact your local sanitation department
or check with the New York State Department of Environmental
Conservation’s regional office at 357-2234. For a useful listing
of alternatives to such hazardous substances, check out the
offerings of the Council on the Environment of New York City
at www.cenyc.org/HTMLPE/detox.htm. Someday maybe the city
I live in will make information on alternatives like this
available on its Web site and provide up-to-date information
on how to dispose of hazardous household wastes.
In the meantime, I’m doing my best to avoid scheduling more
dates at the landfill.