toxic junk
Oklahoma City's Hazardous Household Waste facility is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. (Tres Savage)

In Oklahoma City, any resident with a current water bill can trade toxic junk for free cleaning, lawn and home care supplies. Sound too good to be true? It’s not, and if you visit Oklahoma City’s Household Hazardous Waste Center, you will find people taking advantage of the swap Tuesday through Saturday each week.

Opened in 2003, the facility at 1621 S. Portland Ave. disposes of items like used batteries, lightbulbs, motor oil and pesticides. The goal is to keep hazardous household items out of landfills.

“It protects our environment,” Oklahoma City environmental protection superintendent Raymond Melton said. “We definitely don’t want people putting things like used motor oil in a creek or a storm drain. So we’re extending the life of our landfill, it’s free, and you don’t even have to get out of your car when you bring items in.”

It is illegal to dump motor oil and pesticides in the city’s Big Blue recycling bins, which is one financial incentive to bring items to the center.

Another is that anyone who brings items in can also take products back home with them — for free. The center’s “swap room” helps incentivize people to dispose of household waste properly by letting them take home up to 10 items each week. All of the items in the swap shop have been brought in by people using the center to drop off waste. If it’s reusable, it ends up in the swap room after sorting.

“Landlords love this place because they’ll come and pick five colors in one scheme and throw it in a bucket and they’ve just painted their rent house,” administrative coordinator Jessica Gravlin said. “The paint in particular just flies off the shelves.”

Swap shop: ‘If it’s something that’s usable (…) it ends up in here’

OKC hazardous waste
Shelves sit packed at the OKC Household Hazardous Waste Center’s “swap room” where residents who dispose of waste can take recycled household chemicals home for free. (Tres Savage)

If you’re looking to save a buck or two on drain cleaner, pool chemicals, bug spray or dozens of other household chemicals, the OKC Household Hazardous Waste Center’s swap room is your spot.

Gravlin said about 3,000 items are selected by residents each month.

“The auto stuff is another popular item,” she said. “If it’s bug season, that section is popular. It’s full right now, but if you came in the spring, it would probably be empty. In the summer, if we have pool chemicals, there’s always someone that wants them. If it’s something that’s usable, the guys will make that determination, and then it ends up in here.”

There are types of toxic junk that the center won’t take. No tires, explosives or medical waste are allowed, for example. Once, someone tried to bring in a hand grenade.

“We had them park their car, and then we had to call in the bomb squad,” Melton said. “We can’t take things like that. If there is a question, we encourage people to call and make sure.”

Melton said the center processes about 750,000 pounds of household hazardous waste each year, a number that has grown annually. But he often wonders about what’s not brought in, and more specifically, where it ends up.

“I think a lot of it comes here, but I wish more people would bring their items here,” Melton said. “We do a citizens survey, and out of that, only about 60 percent of people who respond know we’re here. So we have a long way to go as far as outreach. It’s a big challenge for us.”

Melton concedes there are probably people in the city dumping motor oil or other chemicals in storm drains, or elsewhere, but he cautions that’s not a good idea.

“If the DEQ gets involved you’re looking at fines of over $30,000,” Melton said. “The city fines are not as high. But if we catch people, we most likely will get the state involved.”

And how often do people get caught?

“We’ve had people call us after recording someone dumping in a place they shouldn’t,” Melton said. “We constantly get calls through the action center about that. The bottom line is the best thing to do is take it to the right place, rather than dumping it somewhere else.”

Oklahoma City’s Hazardous Household Waste facility is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.