Even though we may want to recycle as much as possible, there are some categories of solid waste that Massachusetts bans from the waste stream. These items are banned from dumpsters and dumpster rentals because of their potentially harmful effects on us and on our environment. Here’s a short primer on what these items are, why they are banned, and the kinds of hazards their ingredients can create.
Categories of items banned from the waste stream include:
- Consumer electronics- cell/smart phones, DVD/MP3 players, pagers, PDAs and other devices
- Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) – found in televisions, computer monitors, flat panel screens
- Freon appliances – refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and dehumidifiers
When these kinds of materials are thrown into trash dumpsters, they can end up in a landfill where some of their constituent elements can leak into our soil and our ground water. This occurrence can make the soil we plant, the water we drink and the air we breathe, unhealthful.
To lower the odds of this happening these types of items should be sent to a materials recycling facilities (MRFs) where they can be separated out by hand from incoming loads and then sent on for specialty recycling and re-use.
Reasons for waste stream banning
- Continuous disposal of all categories above would unnecessarily speed up the use of available space in the Commonwealth’s landfills.
- Many electronic components are bulky and take up a lot of unnecessary space in dumpsters and landfills.
- Burning of electronics, batteries and tires carries potential public health risks. (For instance, CRTs contain lead, which can contaminate incinerator ash.)
- Recycling of computers and electronics enables the re-use of precious metals which, in turn, reduces the need for strip and acid mining.
Following is a closer look at banned category items and why they can be dangerous to us and our environment.
Most kinds of consumer electronics contain some level of potentially toxic substances like lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium other heavy metals and chemical flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These substances have been shown to cause brain damage, developmental problems, cancer, nervous system damage and endocrine disruption in humans and animals.
These electronics, which often contain these toxic metals and chemicals, can pollute the air if they are illegally burned or incinerated. If they are buried in landfills, the pollutants can get into the soil and the groundwater.
The precious metals in the printed circuit boards, power supplies, etc., can be recycled. Doing so, saves space, adds less pollution to the air and soil, and ultimately, over time, saves lives.
Cathode Ray Tubes
A Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) is the glass tube that provides the visual display in televisions, computer monitors and certain scientific instruments, like oscilloscopes. CRTs are toxic because they contain cadmium, a very toxic metal that causes serious physical disorders with any kind of prolonged exposure.
CRTs also contain lead, a poisonous substance to animals, including humans. It can damage the nervous system and cause brain disorders. Lead can be recycled and reused in asphalt, as well as other products.
Freon is a brand name for chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), an organic compound that contains carbon, chlorine, hydrogen and fluorine, produced as a volatile derivative of methane and ethane. Many CFCs have been used as refrigerants, propellants (in aerosol applications), and solvents.
The manufacture of CFC compounds has been phased out because it eats up beneficial substances in our upper atmosphere. The CFCs react with ozone in the upper atmosphere and reduce its protective properties against ultraviolet radiation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 350 million batteries are purchased annually in the United States Though chemical composition varies by type, all batteries contain toxins (like nickel cadmium, alkaline, mercury, nickel metal hydride and lead acid) that can seep into the ground, if left in landfills. If burned, these toxins can pollute water systems and increase levels of lead and acid in the air.
Not all batteries are the same, and there are different ways to ensure each type is properly discarded or recycled. Here are a few tips that can help identify what do with the type you’re using:
- Household/Alkaline batteries are common, single use – AA, AAA, C and D types. These have little to no mercury in them, and recycling programs generally no longer accept them.
- Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd) batteries are rechargeable, considered to be hazardous waste, and MUST be recycled.
- Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) or Lithium-Ion are commonly used in laptops. They are considered non-hazardous waste but contain elements that can be recycled.
- Button Cell batteries are commonly used in hearing aids, calculators and watches. These batteries contain silver, mercury and other elements that are hazardous to the environment and should be recycled.
- Automotive & Sealed Lead-Based batteries contain hazardous materials and elements that can be reused and should be recycled as well.
Used tires can cause safety and health problems. Because they are hard to compress, whole tires present problems for landfills. They take up a lot of space. Also rainwater collected inside tires provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which transmit illnesses, like West Nile virus and encephalitis.
Although tires are difficult to ignite, once lit, the fire is very difficult to extinguish. Fumes from burning tires can have bad short- and long-term effects, ranging from irritation of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes, to effects on the central nervous and respiratory systems and cancer.
Fire also melts the rubber in tires and generates oil that can pollute the ground and surface water. Concentrations of metals (such as iron, zinc, tin and aluminum) in the ash residue from tire fires may be high; and they can contaminate surface and ground water.
Recycling the rubber in tires is the best option. Generally, in Massachusetts, waste tires are shredded before they are recycled. This reduces their volume, eliminates the compaction problem at landfills and eliminates mosquito-breeding locations. Waste tires can then be used in a variety of civil engineering applications including: highways, playgrounds, horse arenas and running tracks.
Though mattresses cannot be recycled, up to 90 percent (90%) of the materials in mattresses are recyclable. Wood, metal springs and cotton can be removed. The remaining foam is usually torn up. Some more sophisticated methods use machines to shred the foam.
The wood is typically sold to wood chippers and used as a fuel source. The cotton and foam are sold to companies that use the materials for insulation and carpet padding. The steel from the metal springs is sold to steel recycling companies that melt it down to make new products. Also by doing this type of overall recycling, less space is taken up in landfills.
Conscientious recycling of banned items makes the best sense for us and our immediate environment – now and in the future.
Some of the information in this article has been gathered from the Mass Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) web site. It’s a great resource for all Massachusetts-related green information. Take a look when you have the time!
Just a Note: Graham Waste Services accepts all of the items described above. But, if you decide to add them to your dumpsters, please call us. There are additional charges for recycling these items.