I had a toxic relationship with my garage. It was ugly in there. Cans of half-used paint that were there when we moved in. Pesticide – which I never use. Old building supplies, like hardened bags of plaster and grout that had never been opened but had gotten damp. A bottle of chalk for marking lines at the soccer field (we don’t play soccer). And a rusting can of some kind of tar stuff for patching the roof – stick on the outside and too scary to actually open.
Everyone knows (I hope) not to throw these things in the garbage – they will surely leak into the ecosystem – groundwater supplies, the watershed, wetlands, the Bay. The paint cans and containers are probably recyclable (steel?) but what’s inside isbad news. Please – don’t even think about pouring it into the gutter or down your storm drain. Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200for that one (or you should).
But still – it seemed onerous to deal with the toxics. So there they sat – for six years. Six years of that corner of the garage out of bounds for storage or use. Six years while the cans and contents got a little funkier and leakier. All in all, not a good scene, and not very green nor healthful, either.
But I got a flyer in the mail from www.household-hazardouswaste.org one day. It said “Free drop-off” of hazardous materials for county residents. The flyer listed the hours and days the facility was open. So first we put down a sheet of cardboard to catch any drips, then loaded up the back of the car. There is a limit to how much you can take to drop off, but a typical household is not likely to have more than 15 gallons of paint at one time.
The car ride took longer than the drop-off. And it was more painful, too, because the toxics were some nasty, bad-smelling stuff. I felt like we were losing brain cells just driving it across town and over the bridge – windows rolled down.
The drop-off? Completely painless, free, and so fast that I wondered why I had waited six years. It went like this:
Drive into driveway. Wait for car ahead of us – maybe a one minute wait.
Nice man gives us a short form to fill out with name, address and what we were dropping off in general.
We roll forward and a couple of workers open the trunk and take everything away, sorting it themselves. This takes about two minutes.
They close the trunk and say goodbye. We drive away, not five minutes in total, and not a penny spent. We can still smell the fumes for a few minutes, but open windows clear the air.
We go spend the rest of our day frivolously.
So what’s holding you back from getting rid of toxic waste in your basement, backyard, garage or back porch?
Here are the addressed of Contra Costa and Alameda sites. No appointment necessary. Check the web site for more information.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of "Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop" and "Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News" (rep'd by Booktrope). She is the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. Her articles have appeared in Thrillist, Quill, Paste, San Francisco Chronicle, and in many magazines; her latest poetry appears in The East Bay Literary review.
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