One of your students proposes an experiment: mix together all the used oil, unneeded paint, expired prescription medicines, pesticides, and all the various products that accumulate under the sinks in a typical house and see what happens.
Would you allow that experiment?
And yet as a society, we do. We combine hazardous wastes willy nilly every day all across the country. That dangerous experiment takes place in landfills.
Sort of. In order to describe what really goes on there, we have to add dead batteries, old cell phones and other electronics—the whole spectrum of household hazardous wastes—along with all the food waste and regular garbage.
What used to happen was that all of these chemicals (and yes, that orange juice that sat out too long is a chemical) mixed together with rainwater to make a horrible concoction called leachate, which leaked out of the landfill.
The leachate polluted not only the land under the landfill, but eventually the aquifers that people depend on for drinking water.
In response, landfills were required to install liners to make sure that the leachate could not escape. <sarcasm mode on> So now it is completely safe and harmless. We don’t need to worry about throwing out anything. </sarcasm mode off>
It’s illegal to put hazardous household wastes in the trash. People do it anyway. Of course, you can’t put it in the recycling container, either.
For more information, check out the EPA’s articles on hazardous household wastes.