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Toxics Collection Days

While authority over most hazardous waste resides with the federal EPA, regulation over the disposal of household products are the purview of state and local authorities. Products, such as paints, stains, wood preservatives, cleaners, used automotive oil and pesticides can contain hazardous ingredients and require special disposal protocols.

Effective municipal programs include frequent collection days, mobile toxic collection trucks, and permanent drop-off centers for residents who are moving or undergoing renovations, which is when most consumers discard unused or partially-used toxic products that require special disposal.

Carmel,IN - Toxic chemical recycling

Photo courtesy of the City of Carmel, Indiana

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has found trace amounts of commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs in 80% of the water they tested. Both surface and groundwater public water supplies are affected, showing low, but measurable concentrations of pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs), such as chemotherapeutic drugs, antibiotics, heart medications, anti-depressants, birth control hormones and many others. Excreted drugs are unavoidable, but flushing unused or expired drugs down the toilet also contributes to the problem. To address this emerging problem, many municipalities are teaching people how to dispose of drugs safely (to prevent abuse as well as keeping them out of the water). They have also started drug take-back initiatives at toxic collection days and partnered with local police departments who have 24 hour lock-boxes for drug drop off. The Federal Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 was passed into law to encourage voluntary drug take back programs.

King County, WA’s local Household Hazardous Waste Management Program accepts waste at four fixed collection sites in Seattle and King County on weekdays and weekends. In addition to these four sites, the traveling Wastemobile provides household hazardous waste collection services within many communities in the county. 

CHaRM, or Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials, an idea developed by the non-profit Eco-Cycle in Boulder, Co, is Colorado's first community recycling center for electronic waste and many other unusual materials.

In Santa Monica, CA,  a new initiative by the Office of Sustainability and the Environment will now bring disposal and containment trucks to residents, rather than asking residents to haul potentially toxic wastes to a disposal center.  Accepting all the same materials as the physical disposal center, the new trucks collect everything from auto products to prescription medications.

Broward County, FL maintains several permanent collection centers for residents to drop off toxic household products at their convenience


The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has a great video and information about its household hazardous waste program.


Managing and Disposing of Household Hazardous Waste- a publication from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provides excellent information on storing, disposing, and reducing the use of toxics.

Household Hazardous Waste: Practical Management for Every Home – is a clear and concise brochure from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management about toxics management.

The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant provides local municipalities with many different resources and links to proven pharmaceutical take back programs.

The Product Stewardship Institute created a How-To Guide for Drug Take-Back Programs.


[1] Wang, Z., et al. (2016). Take Responsibility for electronic-waste disposal. Nature, 536(7614), 23-25.

[2] United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2018) Household Hazardous Waste (HHW).

[3] Pitchel, J. (2014). Waste Management Practices: Municipal, Hazardous, and Industrial. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 103-122.

[4] Phillips, P., et al. (2010) Pharmaceutical Formulation Facilities as Sources of Opioids and Other Pharmaceuticals to Wastewater Treatment Plant Effluents. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(13), 4910-4916.

[5] Kolpin, D. W., et al. (2002) Pharmaceuticals, Hormones, and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in U.S. Streams, 1999-2000: A National Reconnaissance. Environmental Science & Technology, 36(6), 1202-1211.

[6] Focazio, M. J., et al. (2008) A National Reconnaissance for pharmaceuticals and other organic wastewater contaminants in the United States - II) Untreated drinking water sources. Science of The Total Environment, 402(2-3), 201-216.

[7] Stackelberg, P. E., et al. (2004). Persistence of pharmaceutical compounds and other organic wastewater contaminants in a conventional drinking-water-treatment plant. Science of The Total Environment, 329(1-3), 99-113.

[8] Khan, U., et al. (2017) Risks associated with the environmental release of pharmaceuticals on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “Flush List”. Science of The Total Environment, 609, 1023-1040.

[9] Kennedy-Hendricks, A., et al. (2016). Medication Sharing, Storage, and Disposal Practices for Opioid Medications Among US Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 176(7), 1027.

[10] Musson, S. E., et al.  (2007) A Continuous Collection System for Household Pharmaceutical Wastes: A Pilot Project. Journal of the Air & Water Management Association, 57(7), 828-835.

[11] S. 3397 Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, 111th Cong., 1 (2010)  (Enacted).

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