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Ask CRAFT: Disposing of Hazardous Chemicals

Craft & Design


If you have a question for Ask CRAFT, shoot me an email at, or drop us a note on Twitter! We’d love to answer your crafty questions on any topic: technique, projects, crafty culture, or anything else! Each week the answers are here; include your name, where you’re from, and your website or blog if you have one!

Michelle Kempner in NYC writes in:

A friend left me art supplies when she moved cross country and I have been lugging them around from apartment to apartment ever since. Now I am moving across the country and I need to get rid of them. The only problem is that I am not sure how to get rid of them. The supplies she left me with are things like Stand Oil, acrylic latex paint, turpenoid, gamsol, workable fixatif, spray mount and spray paint. What should I do?

Most county hazardous waste facilities have at least one day a month when you can drop off these materials, sometimes for a small fee. Look up each one of your chemicals to see if it’s safe for the drain. For example, photo developer and stop bath are relatively innocuous (but check out advice for neutralizing them before dumping down the drain), while toner contains heavy metals and should, under no circumstances, be poured down the drain. Since Michelle lives in New York City, she can call the city information line (311) and ask for advice. Your city may have a similar service! I found info at the nycwastele$$ site about dropping off the latex paint, but they don’t accept the other chemicals Michelle listed. Since regulations and pick-up/drop-off services vary by city, county, and state, the best generic advice I can give is to look up “hazardous waste disposal” plus your location when searching online. If you can’t find a website that gives you the details, look for a hazardous waste phone number to call and ask what to do.

If your chemicals are still good, try listing them on a service like Craigslist or contacting your local art school to see if any starving artists might benefit from your turpenoid and stand oil before throwing them away. Your local university art department will know how to dispose of these chemicals, too, and might let you piggyback on their end-of-semester cleanup if you know who to ask.

I wish there were one site I could direct Michelle and you all to that would tell you exactly how to dispose of every chemical in every state, but the truth is that hazardous waste disposal regulations vary based on location, so the best I can offer is some search engine keywords and general recycling principles to get you started. Do you have advice for Michelle and others looking to safely dispose of hazardous chemicals? Post them up in the comments.

(Image: chemical shelves, a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike image from kevin mullet’s Flickr stream)

10 thoughts on “Ask CRAFT: Disposing of Hazardous Chemicals

  1. Alison says:

    Post them for free pick up on kijiji or craigslist so that a crafter in your area can use them!

  2. alandove says:

    Last I checked, photographic fixer didn’t contain any heavy metals. The main ingredient in most modern fixers is either sodium thiosulfate or ammonium thiosulfate, either of which can go down the drain without doing much damage if you dilute it sufficiently.
    The rest of the advice here is quite good, though. I’d definitely start by listing the stuff on Freecycle or Craigslist and seeing if anyone else wants it. Chances are, you can get rid of at least a few of these items that way. The rest can go to the local sanitation department on Hazardous Waste Day, just call ahead of time and ask. For the paint, you can just mix it with cat litter and put it in the regular trash.

  3. Becky Stern says:

    Oops, I meant to write toner, not fixer. Thanks!

  4. MadScientistK says:

    Definitely check with your county services or waste management company; around here, most paint may be put out with the regular waste if it’s allowed to dry completely, and spray cans can go in the regular trash too. But I know that many students would love to get their hands on the things listed!

  5. anonymous says:

    See if local art schools, community centers or high school art departments can use the items.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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