Attention, Freecyclers. You may be missing out on one of the best options to pick up free products: your local household hazardous waste (HHW) product exchange room.
The name doesn’t sound very glamorous, which is why many are nicknamed swap shops. But the basic premise is that community members bring in their HHW for disposal, and the city offers these items for free pick-up instead of paying to dispose of them.
Before we get into all the cool stuff you can take, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Not every city offers a product exchange room. In big cities like New York and Los Angeles, while they collect HHW from local residents, they don’t allow people to pick up used products. You’ll need to research your area to see if swap shops are available.
- These products are in many cases opened and/or used, and while the HHW facility staff will inspect products before putting them on the shelves, buyer beware.
- While most swap shops offer products free of charge, some (like in Kansas City) will charge a fee for products like paint. You’ll want to call the facility to verify if products are free.
- Most HHW facilities in the U.S. are residency restricted, because tax money funds the disposal. This means you may have to show identification proving city residency just to use the swap shop.
Now that we have that out of the way, here are five useful products you can get at no cost at your local product exchange room.
By far the most common source of residential HHW is paint, so every swap shop will have some on the shelf. Most communities will mix together cans of paint to produce a full 5-gallon can. In Gilbert, Ariz. (a suburb of Phoenix), you can take home up to 25 gallons of paint per visit, which is enough to paint the inside of your house several times. You can also pick up other paint products, like stains, varnish and paint thinners.
Fun fact: Many communities also use dropped-off paint to cover up graffiti.
2. Household Cleaners
If you aren’t making your own cleaners, why not pick up some free glass cleaner, stain remover or bleach products? These products will be put on the shelf in their original packaging, so you know exactly what you’re getting. You might even find some laundry detergent if you’re lucky.
Fun fact: Unlike paint, household cleaners cannot be recycled, and they also don’t expire.
3. Beauty Products
Don’t freak out, but many of the products used to make us look beautiful, including nail polish, hair color and hair spray, qualify as household hazardous waste. This means they are all candidates to be found at the swap shop.
Fun fact: Nail polish was originally inspired by automotive paint and contains the carcinogen formaldehyde, so think twice before biting on those manicured nails.
4. Automotive Fluids
While you’re unlikely to find any motor oil at the swap shop (most motor oil brought to HHW facilities is from a do-it-yourself oil change and not something that can be resold), there’s bound to be antifreeze, brake fluid, transmission fluid and/or windshield wiper fluid available. Especially during the hot summer, engine coolant (antifreeze) is a helpful product to have available in the garage.
Fun fact: The color of engine coolant actually matters. If your car is using orange coolant, don’t pick up green coolant and mix it in or you could cause engine damage.
5. Garden Products
There are a variety of chemicals sold (fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, etc.) to make sure that your flowers and plants are growing unimpeded. These products are usually not cheap and you have to buy more than you need. Luckily, many of them, as well as fertilizer, are available at the HHW product exchange room.
Fun fact: You can avoid using toxic chemicals entirely through integrated pest management.