Q: I’ve decided to switch to green household cleaning products, but I still have half-used bottles of conventional cleaners. Should I keep using them until they run out?
A: This is a tough one. Switching to nontoxic cleaners is a great strategy — not only for the sake of the Earth, but for your health, too. Still, dealing with the last remnants of the old stuff presents a slight problem.
Cleaners that carry the words “poison” or “danger” on the label (usually heavy-duty stuff like oven cleaners and degreasers) are the most toxic. Have your municipal toxic waste management plant process these. Depending on where you live, you can usually either put them out for pick up or drop them off yourself (look under “toxic waste” in your yellow pages).
Things that are labeled “warning” (like disinfectants) are moderately toxic and fall into a bit of a gray area. Some experts recommend sending those to a toxic waste plant, too; others say dumping them down the drain is really a drop in the bucket — and that can be minimized by diluting the product with lots of water.
Products labeled “caution” (like laundry detergent or dish soap) or those that have no designation on the label are okay to finish off. “I’d probably use it up even if it has a “caution” label just to save it from the landfills,” says green cleaning guru Annie Berthold Bond.
But don’t ponder those matters too hard. Your one-time decision about whether to use or discard your conventional cleaners almost assuredly won’t condemn or conserve the environment.
This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2006. The story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.