Over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. every year, and improper disposal is a human health and environmental crisis. Pesticide disposal in the United States is governed by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the act that oversees the management of hazardous waste and non-hazardous solid waste.
Pesticide disposal is also regulated at the state level, so it’s essential to be familiar with local laws to know how to dispose of pesticides appropriately.
What Is a Pesticide?
A pesticide is a substance (either a chemical or biological agent) that is intended to control pests. Used to protect plants and crops, pesticides can include the following:
- Insect repellent
- Animal repellent
Sometimes, the aim of the pesticide is to kill or incapacitate the pest. In other cases, it serves as a repellent. In either case, the goal is to prevent or reduce damage to plants and crops and protect the gardener or farmer’s income.
How Pesticides are Approved
In the United States, liquid pesticides are regulated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and must be licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before they can be distributed, sold, or used.
In order to license a new pesticide for use, the applicant must show that the pesticide “will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” This includes an analysis of the benefits vs. risks to the environment and potential human dietary risks as laid out in section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Pesticide Waste Products
While pesticides are regulated by the FIFRA during use, the question of how to dispose of pesticides is governed by the RCRA as a type of toxic hazardous waste.
Of the pesticides that are currently licensed, some are not classed as hazardous materials, including products used in organic agriculture like kaolin clay, vitamin D3, and corn gluten.
However, most other types of pesticide wastes (both organic and commercial) must be treated in accordance with the RCRA’s hazardous waste management guidelines and discarded in hazardous waste facilities.
Proper Storage of Pesticides
Whether you’re storing pesticides for future use or saving them for future disposal, the National Pesticide Information Center has specific recommendations for pesticide storage:
- Store pesticides in their original containers. Never place them in food or beverage containers.
- Keep the original labeling intact for each pesticide container, clearly denoting the contents therein.
- Avoid storing pesticides in extreme temperatures. Pesticides should be stored on the property at temperatures between 40-90 °F.
- Store all contents in a safe, well-ventilated location reserved specifically for pesticides.
Additionally, never store more pesticides than you need. Try to keep only what you need for a given season or cycle.
Domestic Pesticide Disposal
For your average household user, knowing how to dispose of pesticides is essential for preventing groundwater contamination and soil contamination. Even a small amount of excess pesticide tipped down the drain, toilet, or sewer could cause significant damage to fish and wildlife.
Avoid Creating Waste When Possible
As a first practical step, the EPA recommends mixing up only small amounts of pesticide and using leftover pesticides on a subsequent application. If you still have pesticides left over, consider offering them to neighbors who may be dealing with a similar pest problem.
Check the Pesticide Label
If you still end up with unusable pesticides, check the product labels for proper disposal instructions. These instructions will generally be federal rather than state-based, so use them in conjunction with your local laws.
Contact Your Local Environmental Agency
In the United States, many states and districts offer their own household hazardous waste collection program or recycling program. The same authorities that offer these programs should also be able to advise you on the requirements for disposing of extra pesticides in your area and suggest your best disposal option.
To find your nearest solid waste agency and ask about state and local laws, start with an internet and phone book search for “solid waste,” “public works,” and “garbage collection” along with the name of your town or city. Other resources that might help you find a hazardous waste contractor or upcoming collection events include:
- Earth 911, telephone: 1-800-CLEANUP, website: www.earth911.com
- The EPA’s Land, Waste, and Cleanup Topics page
You can also try your state or local health department for additional information about the proper disposal of pesticide waste.
Commercial Pesticide Disposal
For commercial generators like farms and orchards that handle larger quantities, the process for how to dispose of pesticides is a little different from that of your average pesticide user. Firstly, it’s expected that growers will have pesticides to dispose of due to the large areas of land that they manage. Secondly, policy changes or a product recall might render a purchased pesticide unfit for use.
State Pesticide Disposal Programs
Household hazardous waste programs are generally not available to growers due to the larger amount of waste produced. Instead, most states offer commercial pesticide product disposal programs that are intended for growers and other commercial users—usually known as clean sweep sites.
To find out about your local waste pesticide collection program, do an internet search for “clean sweep” and the name of your state, or ask your local agricultural association. They should be able to give you information about collection dates, drop-off points, and anything else you need to know.
If you deal with a lot of pesticides classified as hazardous, it’s best to work with a waste management provider that specializes in commercial hazardous waste removal. These organizations can be industry-specific in cases of special waste. For instance, if you grow cannabis or hemp, you would want to work with a hazardous cannabis waste management provider that specializes in both hazardous waste (e.g. pesticides) and cannabis waste.
Sometimes, a pesticide will be recalled due to a problem with the batch or withdrawal of the product’s license. In this case, it’s your responsibility to return the product within the time set by the manufacturer, who will then deal with the final handling of the product.
If you don’t return the unused pesticide by the stipulated deadline, it then becomes your responsibility to dispose of the pesticide through your local clean sweep program and not to use the product in the meantime. As a precaution, it’s best to label the product clearly with “DO NOT USE” and store it in a secure, separate area.
Safe Disposal of Pesticides Benefits Everyone
While it may take a little time and research, finding out how to dispose of unwanted pesticides goes a long way toward creating a cleaner environment. Government agencies have worked hard to create programs that facilitate responsible disposal, and it’s now your responsibility to use the services that are already in place.
- When handling unused pesticides and other hazardous liquids, never pour them down the sink, toilet, drain, or onto the soil, as harmful pesticides could contaminate our waterways.
- Empty pesticide containers should also never be used due to the toxic pesticide residues present in the container. Instead, use rinse water to clean the containers and dispose of them through the same pesticide collection program that you use to dispose of unused pesticides.
- Keep the original container sealed and far from the reach of children and pets. Ensure that all pesticides are labeled correctly.
- Mix only the amount that you need for the job.
By following the proper procedures for unwanted pesticide products, we can reap the benefits of pesticides without causing undue harm. Locate the appropriate hazardous waste disposal programs that are offered in your area, and help to create a cleaner world.