Proper Disposal of Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)

Some common household products cannot be put in the trash or dumped down the drain. Take them to the HHW collection center instead.

Cleaning out your garage or basement? Is the garden shed overflowing with products you don’t need? Be sure to keep all harmful products out of the trash and recycling and out of the sink, toilets, or storm drains. 

A product is likely to be Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) if the label has the words CAUTION, FLAMMABLE, DANGER, HAZARD or similar words. These are products that can cause harm to humans, animals or the environment and must be treated with care. It is against the law to dispose of these products in the trash or recycling, or down the sink, toilet, or storm drains.

Proper disposal protects the health of your family, waste disposal workers, and all the animals, insects and plants that live in our local creeks, wetlands, and the Bay.


Never Put Fluorescent Lightbulbs or in the Trash or Recycling

Improper disposal of mercury containing products, such as fluorescent lightbulbs or mercury containing thermometers, is a human health and water pollution problem. When fluorescent lamps break at home or in landfills, they release mercury – a potent neurotoxin. Each year, broken and landfilled fluorescent lamps and lightbulbs in the Bay Area release enough mercury vapors to contaminate a water body almost as big as Lake Tahoe.

By properly disposing of products that contain mercury, you protect your health and our waterways.

Discarded lightbulbs

Clean Up Spills Right Away

To clean up toxic spills like motor oil, paint and antifreeze, use an absorbent material, such as kitty litter. Clean up spills and dispose of soiled absorbent materials at your local HHW collection center along with other household hazardous waste.

Make a Free Drop-off Appointment for Proper Disposal of HHW

Go to to learn about the proper disposal of these and other common household products requiring special care:

  • Fluorescent and LED light bulbs

  • Pesticides

  • Cleaning chemicals and solvents

  • Batteries (household and automotive)

  • Paints and paint thinners

  • Medicines

  • Motor oil and filters

  • Toxic spills and clean ups greater than one gallon

  • Electronics

City of Palo Alto residents can make an appointment at their HHW Collection center by calling 650- 496-5910.

Discarded paint cans

Safely Dispose of Mercury Thermometers

Check your local City or County websites for opportunities to replace or exchange mercury thermometers.

City of Sunnyvale residents can exchange their mercury thermometers for digital thermometer twice a year. Call 408-730-7717 or email to learn more about our mercury thermometer exchange events.

How Mercury-Containing Products Cause Harm

Mercury can accumulate in fish and shellfish, making them unsafe to eat. Pregnant women and young children are most susceptible to mercury poisoning. It can also affect fetal development, causing birth defects. Mercury released into the environment is transported by air, rain, or runoff and deposited in our creeks and the Bay.


A guide to eating fish from San Francisco Bay

Ways to Prevent Mercury Pollution

  • Buy low-mercury fluorescent lamps and lightbulbs – Major lighting manufacturers now produce lamps and lightbulbs with approximately 80 percent less mercury than standard fluorescent lamps. For example: Philips “Alto,” GE “Ecolux” and Sylvania “Ecologic.”
    However, since none of these lamps are completely mercury-free, they should be disposed of at local household hazardous waste collection centers.

  • Replace mercury fever thermometers with non-mercury thermometers – the standards of accuracy for non-mercury thermometers are the same as those for mercury thermometers. Check with your city to see if they offer a free exchange program.

  • Recycle mercury-containing thermometers, thermostats, and batteries. All of these are accepted at local household hazardous waste collection facilities.

What should you do if a mercury-containing product breaks in your home?

  • Turn off the heating or air conditioning and ventilate the room to the outdoors.

  • Avoid touching the mercury with your bare hands and do not vacuum the spill.

  • Using a medicine dropper, collect the mercury and place the mercury and the dropper in an airtight container.

  • Take the mercury container to your local household hazardous waste facility or a collection event.

The Watershed Watch Campaign is an initiative of
the following agencies: