NYC Year-Round Safe Disposal Options For Household Items Containing Harmful Chemicals
August 13, 2014
Kyriaki (Sandy) Venetis in UPS battery recycling, car battery recycling, electronics recycling, lead acid battery recycling, mercury thermostat recycling, motor oil recycling, rechargeable battery recycling, recycling, tire recycling, tire retreading

In New York State, it’s illegal to throw certain household items into the regular trash because they contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment, wildlife, and human health.

Graphic courtesy of NYCRecycles.

A lot of the items that can’t go into the regular trash include things containing mercury, such as florescent and compact florescent bulbs (CFLs), old fashioned thermostats, and rechargeable batteries.

Alternatively, you might find it interesting to know that you are allowed to throw alkaline batteries into the regular trash.

Standard household alkaline batteries no longer contain mercury – and with the exception of rechargeable and lithium batteries (commonly used for portable equipment) – most batteries pose little risk to the environment if thrown into the trash, says the New York City mayor’s office.

The reason most batteries don’t contain mercury anymore is because it’s a highly dangerous neurotoxin. It can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which adds that mercury can cause severe and potentially fatal damage to the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, and other organs.

The NIH also says that even very low exposure to mercury can impair the immune system, and exposure to very small amounts “in concentrated forms can result in devastating neurological damage and death.”

With the heightened awareness of the dangers of mercury and the need to limit public exposure, in the 1990s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified batteries as the largest source of mercury in municipal solid waste streams. As a result of legislation and public pressure, the battery industry has removed mercury from virtually all household batteries, making them safe to throw out into the regular trash.

In contrast, rechargeable batteries which can contain toxic chemicals, including mercury, cadmium, lead, and other heavy metals, are illegal to throw out into the regular trash.

NYS’s Rechargeable Battery Law requires stores that sell rechargeable batteries (or products containing rechargeable batteries) take back up to ten batteries of the same shapes and sizes as they sell, free of charge.

In NYC, another option for disposing of rechargeable and lithium batteries is to take them to any of the city’s Department of Sanitation Household Special Waste Drop-Off Sites located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

To drop off at the city’s sites, it will be required for NYC residents to show a valid NYS driver’s license and a vehicle registration with a NYC address. If you arrive without a vehicle, then you’ll be required to provide a picture ID and proof of residency, such as a utility or telephone bill.

These sites are solely for non-commercial materials from NYC residents. The city says that, “Drivers with commercial license plates will not be allowed to enter the drop off areas, and any person attempting to illegally drop off bulk material at these sites may be subject to severe illegal dumping fines and impoundment of their vehicles.”

Another thing to keep in mind is that these facilities are located within NY Dept. of Sanitation garages and the drop off sites many not be immediately visible, so you might have to ask a garage foreman or supervisor for assistance.

In addition, these sites operate on a monitored ‘do-it-yourself’ basis, where an official will instruct you on what to do. It’s also recommended that you wear sturdy shoes, casual clothing, and work gloves when you go.

It’s also important to know that there are special instructions when disposing of rechargeable batteries. The NYC Dept. of Sanitation requires that to prevent the risk of fire, each battery needs to be individually bagged or the terminals need to be taped.

Another thing you need to know about is the recycling of lead acid batteries such as uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) used in computers and other electronic equipment. The NYS Rechargeable Battery Law requires retailers that sell them, to also take them back, free of charge.

UPS batteries can also be recycled through manufactured-sponsored take-back programs. You can also bring UPS batteries to any of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation Special Drop Off sites.

For an addition option, you can drop off UPS and other lead acid batteries (up to 11 pounds) at any retail location participating in the Call2Recycle program.

Another area of discussion is how to dispose of florescent and CFL bulbs. They (not including florescent tubes) can be dropped off for free recycling at any Home Depot, IKEA, Lowes, or other participating retailers. Another option is to take them to any of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation Special Drop Off sites.

As discussed earlier, these bulbs contain mercury and under NYS law are considered “commercial generators” and can’t be disposed of in the regular trash. They’re required to be recycled.

Another household item that we should discuss that contains mercury is the traditional thermostat. When updating or remodeling your home, you can ask your contractor to carefully remove and recycle your thermostat or you can recycle it yourself.

An option for recycling your mercury thermostat includes taking it to a hardware or plumbing supply store that participates with the Thermostat Recycling Corp. These thermostats can also be taken to any of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation Special Drop Off sites.

Another area of concern for toxic chemicals is what’s in your garage – car batteries, motor oil, and old tires.

It is illegal in NYS to discard a car battery in the trash or on the street. A typical auto battery weighs about 36 pounds and contains high levels of lead, toxic metals such as copper, sulfuric acid, and a corrosive liquid.

To recycle, you can return your car’s dead battery to any service station or auto supply store that sells them. If you return your battery when you purchase a new one, then you avoid the usual $5 surcharge of the new battery. Also, if a service station refuses to accept your auto battery, you can contact the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation or call 1-800-847-7332.

Another option for recycling your car battery is to take it to any of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation Special Drop Off sites.

Also, when taking care of your car, it’s also illegal to throw out used motor oil or transmission fluid into the trash or down a drain and into the sewer system. NYCRecycle says for example that, “Improperly disposed motor oil from just one oil change can contaminate up to a million gallons of water.”

To recycle, you can bring back your motor oil and transmission fluid to any service station that changes oil. These businesses are required to accept up to five gallons of used motor oil per day, per person at no charge.

Again, if a NYC service station or retailer refuses take your used oil, you can contact the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation or call 1-800-847-7332. Also, another option for recycling your car oils and fluids is to take them to any of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation Special Drop Off sites.

Used motor oil has a lot of benefits. NYCRecycle says that, “The oil you take to a collection center to be recycled can be made into re-refined lubricating oils that meet the same standards as virgin motor oil.”

Re-refined oil is subject to the same stringent refining, compounding, and performance standards as virgin oil, and you can buy re-refined oil for your next oil change, says NYCRecycle.

Also, it’s interesting to note that the NYC Dept. of Sanitation uses re-refined oil in all of its vehicles, including passenger cars, garbage trucks, and snow plows. If you buy a re-refined oil product, check to see that it has the API service symbol, which identifies the performance level, viscosity, and energy-conserving properties. You can also contact your local auto supply retailer for more information.

Also as part of maintaining your car, you can either retread your tires or recycle them. Retreading saves you money, and recycling is good for the environment. Besides being unsightly, dumped tires are also a breeding ground for mosquitos.

The first thing you need to know though is how to keep your tires in the best possible condition, so that they last longer, which is the best first money saver.

NYCRecycle says that improper maintenance can reduce your tire life by 50 percent and “you can extend the life of your tires by taking a few minutes each month to check the pressure and tread depth.”

Keeping the proper air pressure in your tires will let them last longer. You should always check your tire pressure when your tires are cold. Driving causes tires to heat up and warm tires will give an inaccurate reading. Check them first thing in the morning or after the car has been standing for a few hours. Also, don’t forget to check the spare too, especially before any long trips.

In addition, use the manufacturer’s recommended pressure as your standard, not the maximum pressure on the side of the tire. For this, you should refer to your owner’s manual.

Also, checking the tread wear on your tires is a very easy thing you can do yourself to tell what kind of condition your tires are in. You can either use a penny or a tread-depth indicator to do this test.

NYCRecycle explains how to do the tread wear test, saying, “Simply stick a penny in the most worn groove or insert the tread-depth indicator. If you can see the top of Abraham Lincoln’s head or there’s less than 1/16 inch of tread, it’s time to invest in new tires.”

Another suggestion is to rotate your tires according to the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure that your tires wear at the uniform rate. Also, check your tire balance and alignment to reduce excess wear.

Also another thing to do is regularly check your tires for tears or bulges on the tire treads and sidewalls. If you find any of these on a tire, have the tire immediately checked and replaced.

If you’re going to replace your tires, you might want to consider buying retreaded tires. NYCRecycle explains that, “Retreading bonds new tread to the existing tire body using a process very similar to the manufacture of a new tire. You don’t have to pay to dispose of the old tire, and the retread is 30 to 50 percent cheaper than a new tire.

“Two studies conducted by the American Retreaders Association concluded that the residual body strength in worn tires is at least equal to that of new tires, in some cases doubling the standard requirement of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) federal motor vehicle safety standard test, which applies to all new tires. Retreaded tires are also regulated by the standards set by the NHTSA.”

In NYC, if you choose to buy completely new tires, you can bring back your old ones to be recycled. Businesses that sell or install tires are also required to take back tires of approximately the same size that they sell.

Also in NYC, people are allowed to recycle up to the same number of tires that they buy. The fee for collecting old tires is included in the price of the new tires. If a NYC service station or retailer refuses to take your used tires, you can contact the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation at 718-482-4885.

Another option for recycling your tires is to take them to any NYC Dept. of Sanitation garage between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, except holidays. Check the Sanitation website for the location of the garage nearest you.

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