Let’s Talk Trash: Safe disposal of potentially hazardous material

Summer heat has arrived and with it, forest fire season. With the recent fire in our local transfer station’s construction and demolition (C&D) pile, it seems timely to spark a conversation about safe disposal of potentially hazardous material.

August may bring more occasions than ever to light up, so let’s butt out in style. Butts from any manner of smokes are classic forest fire starters, potentially igniting dry brush on roadsides when tossed out of a moving vehicle. The offender is long gone once it’s revealed that something has gone horribly sideways.

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Beyond creative spur-of-the-moment ashtrays (small candy tin, shell, mason jar), you can purchase an insulated pocket ashtray to store and extinguish butts until the next waste bin appears. Hot tip: fire departments sometimes give them away for free. Waterways and pristine beachfronts are also super-gross disposal “bins” for a host of reasons, one being that a single cigarette butt contains enough toxins to contaminate seven litres of water.

Barbecues and backyard propane fireplaces are flying off the shelves this year. Spent propane tanks of all sizes can be taken to Augusta Recyclers, by (but not in) the scrap metal recycling area. Always keep tanks out of general recycling, for reasons that may now be explosively obvious. We have all likely read of recycling plant nightmares in summers past where fires began, endangering staff and facilities alike.

If you’ve been doing a lot of vehicle maintenance during COVID-19, you may have some used oil, or empty oil and gas containers. These can be disposed of for free at Sunshine Disposal and Recycling on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 10 am and 4 pm when an attendant is present. Augusta can receive these materials, along with paint, and other unlabelled hazardous materials for a charge.

Perhaps surprisingly, the best method for dealing with mysterious hazardous liquids in your garage or basement is to allow them to be absorbed into sawdust, wood pellets, or kitty litter and then placed in a garbage bag for disposal.

While the cause of the local transfer station fire is still unknown and it was fortunately quelled before leaping to the neighbouring trees, it does underline the importance of diversion before disposal.

Reusable items such as clean wood waste act as tinder to any fire that does start. Diverting through giveaways, thrift stores, online platforms, and (in the not too distant future) a free store or used furnishings storefront, will greatly reduce our C&D pile in the first place.

Compost piles can also get really cooking. You can even experiment by wrapping a potato in tin foil to see if it cooks up in there. The chemistry of carbon and nitrogen creates quite a lot of heat, and this can ignite if the pile is not sufficiently damp. If you’re worried about this possibility, simply water down and spread out your piles, as dry, thick piles are more of a hazard than otherwise.

Safe disposal usually only takes a little extra time, while preventing serious pollution of toxins in our soil, air, and water. Check in with BC’s recycling hotline at 1.800.667.4321 if you’re ever in doubt about how to handle something you need to throw away.

Let’s Talk Trash is qathet Regional District’s waste-reduction education program. For more information, email info@LetsTalkTrash.ca or go to LetsTalkTrash.ca.

 
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