Feature

Give garage nasties the boot

G Magazine

Do you simply store the stuff you don't know how to dispose of safely? Here are some tips to clear some space - and your conscience

garage clean-up

All sorts of toxic products lurk in your garage. Disposing of them safely is important for the environment.

Credit: Louise Lister

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Let's face it: garages are the places where we store things that are too unwieldy, unsightly or just plain messy or hazardous to have in our homes.

Often, items end up languishing in our garage or shed because of our eco principles - not wanting to send things to landfill, but not being quite sure of how to get rid of them either.

To make your garage amnesty a success (and clear room for all those cool things you can pick up on Freecycle), here is a guide to some common items that you may have currently gathering dust.

Paint

That distinctive paint smell is generally from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, kerosene, ammonia, toluene, and xylene. These are all toxic.

Even when used properly, paints containing VOCs can cause headaches and worsen allergies.

How to dispose: Donate to neighbours/community groups. A pilot scheme supported by Bunnings Warehouse - called Paintback - will accept leftover paint, for use in Dulux's Walpamur Fence Paint. A national launch is in the pipeline. Alternatively your local waste management services will reprocess or dispose of paint (and empty paint cans) safely.

Next time: Choose natural, organic paints and very low-VOC products. Look for the GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia) certification label.

Oil

Lubricating oil ('sump oil') from engines can be a fire hazard, and needless to say, it should never be poured onto the ground. It also seriously damages the equipment at sewage treatment plants if it is poured down the drain.

How to dispose: To find your nearest local recycling facility call 1800 982 006 or see www.oilrecycling.gov.au. When transporting the old oil to the waste facility, place it in the original container or a plastic one. Don't use old petrol containers, paint cans or other metal containers, as remnants of other chemicals could contaminate the oil. The Waste management facility will clean and recycle the oil for industrial purposes or re-refined back into a lubricant such as Envirolube.

Next time: Re-refined (recycled) oil is now available from some major outlets - ask your local retailer.

Batteries

Disposed of incorrectly, the heavy metals in some batteries can leak into the ground when the battery erodes.

How to dispose: Lead acid car batteries can be recycled locally at car mechanics, scrap metal dealers and municipal waste facilities. About 96 per cent of every car battery is recyclable. Rechargeable household batteries (such as phone batteries) are often recycled by local councils. As single-use (standard alkaline AA type) batteries are difficult and costly to reprocess, most councils will not recycle them, but Battery World stores (call 13 17 60) will take them and recycle some parts.

Next time: Use rechargeable batteries for household items.

Drain cleaner

Some drain cleaner brands contain solvents that will cause persistent pollution. The worst chemicals are ones that contain chlorine, such as ortho-dichlorobenzene, which are toxic to marine ecosystems.

How to dispose: Follow the hazardous waste tips.

Next time: Try some home remedies to unblock your sink such as a handful of bicarbonate of soda followed by a splash of vinegar. If you have a bokashi compost system, pour neat bokashi liquid into drains to prevent algae build-up, or use a commercial preparation like Actizyme pellets.

Snail/slug killer

The brightly coloured pellets containing metaldehyde are moderately toxic to humans and birds. Vegetables treated with products that contain methiocarb should not be harvested for seven days.

How to dispose: Follow the hazardous waste tips.

Next time: Commercial products with iron chelates are a better bet. Or, try home remedies such as beer traps (also known as 'slug pubs!'), physical barriers (ash, sawdust). Attracting natural predators such as birds and blue-tongue lizards into your garden will also get rid of your snail problem.

Tips to disposing of household hazardous waste

Most waste management facilities will only accept household quantities of waste. Each facility varies in terms of exactly what it will accept and when, so get in touch with your local council or state government environment agency, which can also advise you on how to transport your items. Special arrangements can sometimes be made for farms and country callers.