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Friday, September 17, 2021
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If my column was an episode of the sitcom “Friends,” this one would be called “The one about the organizer who collected a carful of hazardous waste.” What? Do my readers want to read about hazardous waste? Let’s define hazardous waste and you’ll understand why we do not want to toss it in with our weekly garbage collection and then I can spin my usual tales.

The website for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that hazardous waste may come in the form of liquids, solids, gases and sludges. The EPA directs people to be cautious with and monitor the use, storage and disposal of the following items which are considered hazardous waste: paints, cleaners, oils and pesticides. Improper disposal includes pouring waste down the drain or toilet, into the ground, into sewers or including with our regular trash. Over a period of time, these wastes can pollute our environment and cause a threat to our own or a family member’s health. If left in a home, these items can pose a threat to children or pets.

Getting back to my car stocked with hazardous waste, how did I acquire so much, if my run to the waste drop-off usually includes only a couple of boxes? It happened in stages and began when clients who were putting their mother’s house up for sale asked me what to do with an old oxygen tank fitted into a wheeling cart. I called a doctor friend who thought Hatzalah might want it. I asked my friend in Hatzalah, who politely refused my offer. My client’s local public works facility said the ONLY option we have is to wait for the next county-wide hazardous waste collection, which was, at that time, a mere 6 weeks away. In Middlesex County, there are 6 hazardous waste collections a year. Of the six, three are on Shabbat and three are on Sundays. The one in June was, happily, on a Sunday, and only about a 25 minute drive from my house. These clients had to go back to their home in another state and the house was going up for sale in just a few days. No one seeking their forever house wants it to include an old oxygen tank. I told them I would be able to store the tank in my garage until the drop-off day. After that conversation I decided that in order to make my upcoming trip worthwhile, I needed to increase the inventory. I searched my home for hazardous waste and came up with a few spray cans. That was helpful, but did it constitute a worthwhile trip? Several years ago, after doing a purge in my home, I brought many items, including a few mercury thermometers (probably from our parents’ homes) and oil-based paints to the Middlesex County College collection, which is always on a Sunday in mid-November, near the date of my wedding anniversary. In fact, when my husband saw how happy I was after dropping off potentially dangerous thermometers, he joked that the trip was my anniversary gift.

Soon after the oxygen tank discussion, I arrived at a different client’s home. She was upset. It seemed that in preparation for her expected pick-up of household debris, she had spent the past couple of weeks putting furniture and other large items in her front yard. Strangers, acting upon an opportunity, were adding to her load by abandoning junk in her yard. This was rude, but not terribly inconvenient until someone left several cans of paint. I arrived at my client’s home and learned the sanitation workers had not picked up the paint cans. The Public Works department explained they do not accept paint of any kind. They gave her some options, though: Cans that are empty or almost empty can be filled with dirt, sand or coffee grounds. When the paint is absorbed, the cans can be placed into the regular garbage. Water-based paints can be tossed. Oil-based paints must be brought to the hazardous waste collection in Old Bridge on June 27. My client does not drive and she was concerned about how she would get the paint to Old Bridge. I shared with her the good news that I was planning to go to that very drop off, so I would be pleased to take the cans of paint for her. She brightened up and said we might find more items of hazardous waste in her home as we purged. Her garage was very full and removing the hazardous waste seemed a brilliant way to begin. Over the next several sessions, I worked in her garage and laundry room, filling kitchen-sized trash bags with spray bottles, old cleaners, shoe polish, motor oil and more. The two of us could not keep from smiling and feeling so grateful that we had a safe place to dispose of everything, at the same time as her home was getting organized. Finally, when all the chemicals seemed to be purged from her garage, I placed 14 bags in my car. When I got home, I immediately put all 14 bags in my garage to join the oxygen tank and other accumulated bags. It was a week before the drop-off and I did not want to drive around with chemicals.

I mentioned I had accumulated other bags. While working in garages for two other clients during that same time, I came across paint and other old chemicals, and before I left those homes, my car was carrying some more hazardous waste.“If I’m going anyway...”

Finally, the morning of June 27 arrived. I was very excited, but concerned about whether my husband and I would have to wait on a long line on a scorcher of a day. We arrived at the drop-off location to find clearly marked signage, many alert people directing us and even more people with shopping carts ready to empty the trunks and hatchbacks. Because of COVID, drivers and passengers were instructed to stay in their vehicles. It took two people to unload my car and the contents filled two shopping carts. The oxygen tank was removed from the wheeling carrier. Since the carrier itself is not hazardous, it could not be accepted. We drove away with the carrier in my otherwise empty hatchback. This carrier is not a candidate for the regular garbage. That means... I hold it in my garage until the next town-wide garbage collection. Well, October 9 isn’t that far away.

Check on your county government website for the date of your next hazardous waste collection, and set yourself visual reminders so you can take advantage of this invaluable service.


Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 14 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter Clogs, but Harmony Heals.” Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at [email protected]

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