Responsibly Dispose of Paper, Electronics, Drugs and Hazmat

April is the month for spring cleaning events.  No, not those that take a mop and a sponge.  You can make a real dent in your household clutter by responsibly disposing of old papers, electronics, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and household hazardous chemicals.

Paper shredding events are very common in the weeks following April tax filings. Immediately after filing your tax return is a great time to clear out your oldest records that your CPA recommends you destroy. Most people should keep the past seven years of financial records and shred earlier ones, but check with your personal advisor.  If you aren’t sure what to keep and what to shred, consider implementing a filing system that tells you what to keep and for how long.  For those without a personal home shredder, these outdoor events are very handy. They are often offered by banks, municipalities, and community service organizations.  Usually the sponsoring organization hires a professional document destruction company to bring their shredding containers or trucks on site, and usually the shredding is done right in front of you. These are usually offered to individual consumers, although many small business owners can make use of the service if their volume is small. The sponsoring organization may have certain guidelines for the event, such as proof of residency, a limit on the number of bags or boxes that can be dropped off (usually two to four), the types of material accepted (staples and paper clips are ok; hardback books, binders, and computer disks are not), and a minimum fee or suggested donation (usually under $10). You can find one of shredding events in your area by doing a Google search for “shredding event” and your town, zip code, or region name. For updated shredding events near Philadelphia, click here.

Electronics recycling events are a little harder to come by, although they have increased in the last few years. Also called e-waste, all types of electronic gear can and should be properly recycled. According to www.earth911.com, a reputable source for information and recycling locations,  “While e-waste only accounts for two percent of the U.S.’ garbage in landfills, it accounts for 70 percent of overall toxic garbage.”  Old TVs, computer monitors and CPUs, mice, keyboards, cell phones, cords, chargers, even fax machines and standard phones can all be recycled. But if you are planning to attend an event, be sure to check in advance what they recycle. There are fees (usually $10) for some items like monitors, and some items are accepted at one event but not another. If you are turning in a computer, be sure to remove a hard drive and crush it before sending it to a recycler in order to protect your data. Simply erasing it isn’t enough since forensic efforts can recover almost anything from old drives  This is especially important if you are sending it to a center where they may chose to refurbish your gear rather than breaking it down for raw materials.

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs have been historically hard to dispose of properly. For years the advice was to mix drugs with coffee grinds or kitty litter before tossing in the trash or to flush it down the toilet. Not only are the fish and other marine animals being affected by our Viagra and Lipitor, but we make it more challenging to have clean water for ourselves. So now the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is doing the right thing. The DEA announced the second nationwide prescription drug take-back for April 30September 2010, Americans turned in over 242,000 pounds-121 tons-of prescription drugs at nearly 4,100 sites operated by more than 3,000 of the DEA’s state and local law enforcement partners.  This year’s event will take place Saturday, April 30th, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time when DEA and its partners will hold the second National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day at sites nationwide. The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.  You can find collection sites closest to you by visiting www.dea.gov, clicking on the “Got Drugs?” icon, and then entering your zip code. (Edit: The DEA ran these initiatives from 2010-2014, but has since stopped in favor of allowing pharmacies and local police departments to legally take back drugs locally.)

Finally, if you are about to clean out the garage, don’t mistake those half-empty bottles of paint, lawn feed, and lubricants for trash. Those are hazardous materials (hazmat) that need to be properly disposed of.  If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t pour it down the drain. Most counties, townships and other municipalities have designated hazmat collection sites that accept household chemicals several times each year. Usually the events are free, but to ensure they are not collecting industrial waste they are limited to residents, so be prepared to show your ID. Do a search on your municipality’s website for their annual collection calendar. It may mean you have to make a separate trip on a future Saturday, but it means a lot to those of us who drink the water. Thank you.

Please note that latex paint is no longer accepted at most hazmat events. The instruction is to dry up the paint, using a coagulator such as kitty litter, and tossing dried paint in with regular trash service.

Hazmat collection sites might be a bit harder to find, but start with your town, township, or county site searching for “household hazardous waste.” In PA and New Jersey, the counties are the collection sites.

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