Most people don't think about where their trash goes after it's picked up. In fact, your household waste may be destined for several different disposal or recycling facilities, depending on the material. Homeowners should understand how to properly get rid of unwanted items to protect themselves and their families from exposure to harmful chemicals, to help protect the environment, and to comply with the law.

Q: How does Ohio regulate waste disposal and recycling?

A: Many Ohio laws and regulations apply to waste disposal and recycling. Regulatory programs are established by state agencies, such as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA). Also, local governments such as cities, counties, and townships may add their own waste handling requirements. Different legal requirements apply to different "waste streams," such as household garbage (typically referred to as "municipal solid waste" or MSW), construction and demolition debris (C&DD), scrap tires, and electronic equipment. Specific legal requirements also apply to hazardous and infectious wastes.

Q: Where does my household trash go?

A: Household trash such as leftover food, packaging, paper, household items, clothing, toys and other unwanted items are considered "solid waste," which can be sent to a solid waste landfill. Local governments (such as cities or counties) own and operate some solid waste landfills, while private companies run others. All landfills must be licensed to operate. The Ohio EPA and some local health departments have authority to issue landfill licenses. Because solid waste does not pose any special risk to public health, safety or the environment, it can be placed in a regular solid waste landfill.

Q: What wastes should I keep out of my regular garbage?

A: You should not mix used oil, fuel, batteries, chemical pesticides, paint and electronics with your regular household garbage. These wastes require special handling because they can release harmful elements to the environment, leading to water contamination and other negative impacts. However, you can safely dispose of and/or recycle these materials. For information about properly disposing of waste oil, batteries, pesticides, paint, and electronics, visit http://www.epa.ohio.gov/Portals/41/p2/HouseholdHW.pdf to consult the Ohio EPA's guidance document, Handling Household Hazardous Waste.

Q: How should I dispose of construction material from home renovation projects?

A: Take waste materials from home construction, repair, and renovation projects to a specially licensed construction and demolition debris (C&DD) landfill. Like solid waste landfills, C&DD landfills must be licensed by the Ohio EPA or an authorized local health agency. C&DD generally includes brick, concrete, stone, glass, framing, doors, drywall, roofing materials and other structural components, as well as plumbing fixtures, heating equipment, electrical wiring, and insulation. C&DD can also be recycled, thus saving space in landfills. For a list of recycling options, visit www.epa.ohio.gov/ocapp/p2/recyc/debris_add.aspx. Also, you can search for local companies that can take certain types of C&DD, such as drywall, shingles, concrete, cinder blocks, aluminum, carpet, and wood.

Q: How should I dispose of fluorescent lamps and bulbs?

A: Fluorescent lamps contain small amounts of mercury and other heavy metals, so handle them carefully to prevent breakage. You can legally place used household fluorescent lamps/bulbs in your trash, but this is not recommended. A better option is to take them to your local household hazardous waste recycling event. Also, all Home Depot stores now collect compact fluorescent lamps for recycling.

Q: How should I dispose of yard waste?

A: You can put yard waste in the trash, but a better option is to recycle it. You can convert yard waste into a valuable product by composting. Your community may even have a composting program. No state laws or rules currently apply to how homeowners dispose of yard waste, but landfills may not accept yard waste that a homeowner has purposely separated from other trash. You must take such "source-separated" yard waste to a composting facility. Some cities, villages, and townships provide curbside collection of yard waste and require residents to separate their yard waste from trash.

Q: How do I get rid of old railroad ties from around my house?

A: Reuse old railroad ties if possible. You can use them to make retaining walls, parking lot bumpers, etc. Also, Ohio EPA maintains a list of wood and pallet recyclers on its website. If you are unable to reuse or recycle your old railroad ties, dispose of them in a solid waste or C&DD landfill. Old railroad ties treated with creosote, a chemical preservative, can present a risk of harm to people and the environment. Appropriate protective measures should be taken when handling treated wood.

For additional information on disposal of household waste, or to find your local landfill, contact your local solid waste management district, or visit the Ohio EPA's Division of Solid and Infectious Waste's website at www.epa.ohio.gov/dsiwm/pages/general.aspx .

--This article is intended to provide broad, general information about the law and is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.