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Where does hazardous waste end up?

Joseph Walls
Ask Waste Watchers
Vail CO Colorado

What happens to the hazardous materials that are dropped off at the Eagle County Household Hazardous Waste facility? – Ken in Eagle

Thanks for the great question, Ken. This is the most frequently asked question we get at the Household Hazardous Waste facility.

The short answer is that there are many different treatment methods used to dispose of materials that are dropped off. The best method is the one that is safe for people, safe for the environment, cost effective, and with an emphasis on recycling.



Below are the five most common disposal or treatment methods for household chemicals and materials, a basic explanation of the method and examples of each.

Incineration – This method is frequently employed to destroy chemicals. An incinerator is basically a huge oven heated to 2,500 degrees. As an example, a full can of flammable paint enters one end of the incinerator and is removed as ash and metal when the incineration process is complete. The ash and metal can then be safely disposed of in the landfill. Chemicals sent for incineration from the HHW include items like aerosol cans, brake fluid, old gasoline, oil based paint, solvents and pesticides.



Wastewater treatment – This is a large tank of water where chemists combine two or more hazardous chemicals in order to neutralize one another. What is left after the chemical reaction is no longer a hazardous material. Household products that are typically wastewater treated include lye, bleach, caustic soda, muriatic acid and certain swimming pool chemicals.

Retort – Visualize how a moonshiner’s still functions, and that is the basic premise behind retort. Items like mercury thermometers, mercury thermostats, or fluorescent light bulbs are placed in a tank. The items are crushed and the heat is increased under the tank. As the temperature increases, the mercury turns to vapor, moves through a tube and collects as a liquid in another container. Retort is primarily used for mercury devices and fluorescent light bulbs.

Recycling – Recycling is a general term used to describe the reconditioning of used materials in a way that makes them useful again. For example, used cooking oil is sent to a company that turns it into biodiesel fuel. Other materials dropped off at the facility that end up being recycled are motor oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze, electronics and all types of batteries.



Landfill – This method is more complicated than just placing materials in a hole in the ground and covering them with dirt. Some landfills are designed for hazardous waste; others like the landfill in Wolcott are not. Only solids can be landfilled, so all liquids need to be solidified before they can be buried. Examples of items that can be landfilled are asbestos, light ballasts, wood glue and solidified latex paint.

Joseph Walls is hazardous-waste specialist at the Eagle County Household Hazardous Waste facility, located at the landfill in Wolcott. The facility is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Call 970-328-3468 or visit http://www.eaglecounty.us/recyclingwaste for information.


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