Carrying a box full of old latex paints and pesticides, Richmond resident Calvin Tran walked slowly across a parking lot, only to be directed back to his car by a woman in a neon vest. This was a drive-up operation only: a collection event for household waste and toxic materials that was a carefully designed track with regulated check-points along the way.
Tran described the event as a once-in-a-while chance to ged rid of dangerous stuff in his house. “You just hold onto it until a day like this comes a long,” he said.
Stericycle, which works to protect the environment from toxic substances, manages Richmond’s permanent hazardous waste facility. Together with the city of Richmond, Recyclemore and Richmond Build, about 20 workers gathered in the parking lot of 24th and Barrett streets to hold their first ever hazardous-waste collection event on September 30.
Stericycle Regional Manager Tammy McManama said understanding the rules and regulations of toxic substances isn’t easy. “California has tougher standards,” she said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposes a fine of up to $10,000 for illegal disposal. But due to substantial budgets cut by the Trump administration, there are less funds for regulating hazardous waste.
Workers trained in how to categorize hazardous materials wore protective gloves and goggles, assisting the two lines of traffic. Most car trunks were filled with household items not seeming to be toxic — medicine bottles, broken light bulbs, crusty jugs of oil and paint, or “E-Waste” such as batteries, outdated computer parts and TVs.
“If a kid knocks over a bunch of aerosol containers in a store and the knobs fall off, it’s damaged material,” said Richmond Public Services official Nicole Forte. But stores often don’t know how to dispose of these things. “Before, they would put it out into the trash. Now, they have separate bins to put the material in, document, and package it properly.”
What’s a good test for figuring out if your household item is hazardous waste? If items fit into one of these four categories: toxic, ignitable, flammable, and corrosive. There are materials that were turned away at the recent event, such as pressurized gas cylinders, radioactive materials, explosives, and firearms.
Black plastic barrels were filled with hazardous items by workers from organizations such as Richmond Build, which provides intercity adults with career opportunities. These items would be exported to different states or overseas and broken down by material to be reused for fuel incineration.
The unexpected stuff — like the animal carcass or chemicals of an old-time lab teacher would be sent to toxic waste landfills.