Why is it So Easy to Buy Hazardous Products and So Hard to Get Rid of Them Responsibly?

September 15th, 2011

Recently, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) was faced with these issues when we cleaned-out our office and had to dispose of a variety of items. We found that recycling e-waste was easy because SVTC is an informed resident and we are lucky to have a responsible e-waste recycler in Santa Clara County.

But with the household products (paint, cleaners, etc), we were stuck with using the county recycling services because these products are also considered hazardous waste by law. It is illegal to throw these products in the trash bin and, unfortunately, there is no easy manufacturer takeback and recycling program in place. Trying to do the right thing, turned into a hassle.

Unfortunately doing the right thing isn’t always simple and this time, it was pretty time consuming. First, we had to fill out a detailed form for the county hazardous waste program. The form required a waste description, hazardous classification, total amount of liquid, quantity of containers and the size of the containers. The County did not follow up with my form in a timely manner, so I had to call them to find out that they had not processed our form because they had questions and (due to understaffing) hadn’t
had a chance to call back yet. Then I had to call the EPA to get a free “EPA ID number” (I do understand the need for tracking) in order for the county to process my form. The county was then able to give me our appointment time and date for the drop off. The problem with this? The earliest available drop-off appointment was a week away and the location was a 20 minute drive.

We were also sent an invoice to pay for the waste – which could only be paid with check or money order.

If corporations are going to create hazardous products then:
1) shouldn’t they be doing this job instead of the county?
2) shouldn’t they make it easier for their customers to dispose of it?
3) what happens with consumers who don’t know or do not have the time to deal with all of this paperwork. These products are going to end up in our landfills or dumped.

This is one of the reasons why SVTC is trying to get a handle on the end of life of solar panels NOW.

We do not feel that consumers should be placed with the burden and we know creating a mandatory takeback and responsible recycling policy will help to protect our environment and also create jobs.

I hope no one gets the impression that they shouldn’t dispose of their hazardous waste properly and responsibly. We just wanted to recognize that it isn’t always easy to do the right thing and this is one of the reasons SVTC exists!