Batteries, electronics, razor blades, sanitary pads and medicine are everyday products that each leave behind a significant toxic footprint. Once they’ve exceeded their use, how should we dispose of them safely to prevent harm to the environment and our health?
In India, an overwhelming majority of used batteries land up in landfills. Once the covering of these batteries corrodes, the toxic metals inside leak into the soil, polluting ground and water supplies used to grow the fruits and vegetables that we will one day eat. Alternatively, the metals might get incarcerated with other waste at the landfill, releasing toxins into the air that we breathe.
Currently, the kind of small AA or AAA batteries which are used in everyday objects, are listed under ‘domestic hazardous waste’ in India’s Solid Waste Management Rules and are recycled at large governmental source and deposition centers. While local battery collection centers are common elsewhere in the world, it still requires a bit of hunting around to find one in India. The health benefits and resources recovered of recycled batteries are high in value. Check if there are any local recycling collection centers near you where you can deposit your old batteries or, if one doesn’t yet exist, sell them to a scrap store who will eventually distribute them to a recycling center.
Everyday electronics like TVs, computers, phones, headsets and chargers are composed of harmful heavy metals and toxic chemicals that pose great danger to the environment. When e-waste (short for electronic waste) is thrown out with the rest of your garbage, it ends up in landfills where the metals and chemicals eventually leak into the ground or water and contaminate our food sources, or, are burned, releasing toxic fumes into the air.
To safely throw out old electronics, contact a certified e-waste recycler in your city who will recycle the goods for you or call the manufacturer or store you bought the product from and ask if they have any services for recycling old electronics – usually large manufacturers do. If your electronics are in good condition, donating or selling them extends their shelf life, providing the most eco-friendly solution to less waste.
When exposed razor blades are thrown away with the rest of our garbage, they can cause great harm to the sanitation workers who sort through the waste and any other beings that stumble across them. Unfortunately, razor blades are too small and thin for the raw materials to be recovered cost-effectively to classify them as recyclable, making them inevitable trash items. In order to avoid injury to others, put used razor blades in a small tin box or jar, seal it up with something sturdy like duct tape and label it clearly with “used razors”.
The best eco-friendly solution to throwing out your razors is to limit how many razors you use. Buy a good quality razor that can last a few uses instead of single-use disposable ones and take care of it well to enhance its life. Post-shave, give it a thorough rinse to remove any bits of soap, hair and dead skin caught on and then dry it carefully on a towel, wiping in the opposite direction of the blade. Blades have a tendency to rust quickly when exposed to air. Keeping your razor in an airtight container or letting it sit in a shallow tub of rubbing alcohol in between uses will protect the metal from oxidizing.
Unfortunately, there’s no green solution to disposing commercial sanitary pads. Because sanitary pads are composed of 90% plastic and soaked in body fluid once used, they’re hard to recycle. What generally happens is that they get thrown out with our regular trash or flushed down the toilet, sending them straight to the landfill or into our waterbodies. At the landfill, they build up plastic pollution until they’re incarcerated with other waste material, releasing harmful and debilitating dioxins into the air. If we keep using commercial pads, the most effective way to send them out is to roll them up in special sanitary pad disposal bags and dispose the bags with regular dry waste or non-biodegradable waste.
Used pads are breeding sites for harmful bacteria. Wrapping them in these special disposal bags protects the waste pickers and any being who comes into contact with them.
The best way to beat the disposal problem synthetic sanitary pads pose is to substitute them for the now increasingly common eco-friendly versions. While these tend to be slightly more expensive, they are created from entirely natural materials like banana fiber, bamboo fiber, corn starch and organic cotton. They also come in biodegradable disposal bags, making them a product that’s much kinder to the environment and easier to dispose of safely.
When disposed improperly, all medicine poses a dangerous threat to the environment and public health. Medicine that is flushed down the toilet becomes part of your community’s water supply and can leech into the ground, causing hazardous effects on human and animal health. Unless the box approves or there is absolutely no other choice, you should never flush your medicine. Currently, large-scale take-back initiative programs for expired, unused or unwanted medicine don’t exist in India, so it’s important to throw out your medication in a manner where it’s least likely to cause harm to others. Throwing out medicine in its full form can lead to drug abuse if fallen into the wrong hands. The safest method of disposal is to disguise your pills, powders or liquids by mixing them with uneatable substances like dirt and then putting that mixture in a sealed bag and throwing it out with the rest of your garbage. It’s also worth checking with your local pharmacy if they can take any medication back and dispose of it safely for you.
Using and disposing of products more sustainably has become imperative to the health of our environment and ourselves. What are some other products that you use every day and have better solutions to throwing away?