Impacts of hazardous waste

There are many items commonly found around the house and in backyard sheds that fall into the category of household hazardous waste (HHW). HHW items cannot be placed in your recycling bin, your household bin or your bulk verge collection. If not disposed of correctly, HHW items can be very hazardous to the environment. However, if taken to the right place for disposal, many of these items can be completely or partially recycled.

Batteries

In Australia, about 350 million batteries are purchased every year. More than two thirds of disposed batteries are sent to landfill, making them the most common form of HHW. Heavy metals found in batteries include cadmium, nickel, lead and mercury which are all toxic and dangerous to human, animal and environmental health if not managed properly. Battery recycling is beneficial because:

  • the nickel batteries contain can be recycled to produce stainless steel
  • the acid found in batteries can be recycled and used to form sodium sulphate, which is used in the manufacture of detergents, glass and textiles 
  • other materials recycled from batteries can be used to produce new batteries, fertilisers, rubbish bins and plant pots.

Fluorescent tubes and light bulbs

Fluorescent tubes and fluorescent light bulbs, known as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), must be disposed of correctly to protect the environment. They are regulated by Australian standards because they contain small amounts of mercury. If a CFL or fluorescent tube is broken indoors, the risk of mercury poisoning in the home is extremely low. However, if these lamps go to landfill, the mercury converts to the toxic substance methylmercury which accumulates in the environment and can spread through the air, water and soil.

The best thing to do with your fluorescent tubes and CFLs at the end of their lifespan is to take them to a recycling station because many of their components, including mercury, glass, aluminium and phosphor powder can be recycled.

Light emitting diodes (LEDs)

LED light bulbs are becoming less expensive and increasingly available for all types of fittings. It is claimed that they consume less electricity, provide higher brightness, have a longer lifespan than fluorescent bulbs and a considerably longer lifespan than their incandescent predecessors.

Whilst LED light bulbs do not contain mercury, it is still important to recycle these correctly because most types of LEDs contain nickel which can be recycled. Coloured LEDs contain lead and arsenic which can be harmful if they accumulate in the environment. 

Further information

Further information about Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) advice and disposal can be found at the R-Gang website.