Everyone likes free stuff, but free stuff in the name of saving the environment is even better.
Many Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facilities around the country have product exchange rooms, sometimes called swap rooms or swap shops. These rooms offer safe, unopened HHW items for public consumption, keeping them out of the landfill and letting you save some money.
While HHW facilities require that you be a resident of the respective city or town to drop off material, many don’t require residency to take something from the exchange room.
The most common items are kitchen cleaners, grout, tile sealant and soaps like laundry detergent. Paint, though, is by far the most abundant item.
At the Gilbert, Ariz. HHW facility, stacks of old paint cans line the shelves waiting to be checked and then recycled. David Ramirez, HHW technician for the Town of Gilbert, explains that when they get paint, they open it to make sure there’s no odor or dryness. Then they run it through a screen into a 35-gallon drum. Eventually the paint – usually shades of white, gray and tan – ends up in five-gallon buckets that are available for the public to take.
An individual can take up to 25 gallons of paint for free. Ramirez says this program helps reduce waste and save the town money. In one report, he says the paint that was reused from the facility to cover graffiti saved Gilbert more than $28,000.
The facility does a lot more than recycle paint; they properly package HHW materials for either recycling or disposal as well.
“The goal here is to keep this stuff out of the landfill,” Ramirez says. So far, it’s working. According to Ramirez, they recycle close to 60 percent of the materials that arrive at the facility. For instance, when an aerosol can comes in, they puncture it to release the contents and properly store the hazardous chemicals for processing, but they keep the can itself for scrap metal recycling.
Most HHW facilities will accept car fluids, cleaners, pesticides, propane tanks, batteries, electronics, CFL light bulbs and a variety of other materials, many of which end up in product exchange rooms for you to take for free.
According to Ramirez, the best time to hit a product exchange room is spring or fall when people usually clean out their homes and garages, so more items are brought into the facility.
Check with your local waste management group to see where your HHW facility is located, its hours of operation and accepted materials.