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Hazardous waste in the home

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Look around your house and garage. You will likely find products that will become hazardous when the time comes to dispose of them. Hazardous waste is materials that may be harmful to human health or the environment because of their chemistry or quantity. These wastes are solid or liquid materials that have been mostly used up or are no longer wanted. Examples include aerosol cans, paint, cleaning products, batteries and motor oil, and the containers in which they are packaged. They may be flammable, corrosive, explosive or toxic.

Handling and storing such materials can cause health and safety and environmental problems. To minimize these problems, hazardous waste must be chemically treated and/or incinerated before it is finally disposed of or recycled. Many municipalities offer their residents disposal programs for hazardous household waste, while some have special depots or drop-off centres, or occasional drop-off days at central points.

Chart: Hazardous waste, imports and exportsCanada is also a net importer of hazardous wastes for disposal. Some of the hazardous materials Canada accepts are ammonia, asbestos, chlorine, fuel oils, hydrogen peroxide, lead, mercury, nickel, PCBs, uranium and zinc.

In the first half of 2004, 196,177 tonnes of hazardous waste were imported into Canada, 21% more than it exported in that period. But since 2001, these imports have been declining.

Why not simply treat all these household hazardous wastes on-site and avoid  transporting them altogether? Cost, on-site capacity to treat waste, type of waste and proximity to an appropriate treatment facility are factors in these decisions. On-site treatment may not be feasible for small firms that produce small quantities of hazardous waste: shipping these materials to an outside facility is sometimes the best option.