a bag of trash
a bag of trash

Disposal of Toxic Waste

Hazardous Waste

a can of acetone

Most of us come into contact daily with hazardous substances, whether or not we recognize it. One of the easiest ways to figure out what products need special handling, use, and disposal is to read the back label on the product packaging.

If the label includes strong warning statements about personal health, you can suspect that the product can also have significant environmental implications if improperly disposed (as well as significant personal health implications if improperly used).

Some boat products that may be hazardous are solvents, varnishes, cleaners, bottom paints, as well as gasoline, diesel, oil, and antifreeze.

Most hazardous materials laws relate to the proper disposal of large amounts of product – which won’t apply to the individual boater using a quart here or a gallon there.

Local recycling and proper disposal options vary widely depending on where you live.

One of the most frustrating parts of being a consumer of hazardous substances is the fact that the labels often state “dispose of according to local and state laws.” This doesn’t help the average person much, since we often can’t find those laws. Given that situation, some advice we have is listed below.

Hazmat Tips

  • Start reading labels!
  • Before you buy a new product, read the label and figure out if you really need to use that strong a product.
  • Buy only the amount you’ll need or share with a friend.
  • Follow directions for use and safely store where the product container can’t capsize!
  • Try alternative products or methods of cleaning.
  • Schedule major maintenance work on land away from the water’s edge (maybe during winter storage?).
  • Find your local “Household Hazardous Waste” collection days where you can safely dispose of this stuff. Check with your local public works department or check out earth911.org to find possibilities in your town.
  • Put some fuel booster product in outboard tanks in the fall to avoid having stale fuel in the spring. This may be even more important to remember if you are running one of the newer engines, which is not burning as much fuel.
  • Wherever possible, use less toxic propylene glycol antifreeze instead of ethylene glycol.

When launching your boat in the spring, see if you can capture the chemical instead of letting it spew into the marina’s waters. Your marina may be able to reuse or recycle it for you.

Fuel and Oil Discharge

Under federal law (the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the Clean Water Act) it is illegal to discharge any petroleum product into the water. By law, any oil or fuel spill that leaves a sheen on the water must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard at 1-800-424-8802.

You are responsible for any environmental damage caused by your fuel spill. So…preventing spills will be beneficial for you and the boating environment.

It is also against the law to use detergent or other chemicals on a spill to disperse the oil or sheen. These products can cause the petroleum to sink into the water, causing more harm to marine animals and bottom sediments.

If you have spilled a petroleum product, immediately stop the source of the leak, use oil absorbent pads or booms, and notify your marina. Call the U.S. Coast Guard. Your marina may also know a state agency that needs to be contacted. If the spill is of any substantial size, we also recommend you call your insurance company.

Fines for Discharging Hazardous Materials

Civil Penalties

Up to $25,000 per day, per violation. 33 U.S.C. 1319(d).

Injunctive relief. 33 U.S.C. 1319(b).

Criminal Charges

Negligent Violations: $2,500 to $25,000 fine or imprisonment for one year, or both. 33 U.S.C. 1319(c)(1).

Knowing Violations: $5,000 to $50,000 fine or imprisonment for not more than three years, or both. 33 U.S.C. 1319(c)(2).

Knowing Endangerment: Up to $250,000 fine or imprisonment for up to 15 years, or both. 33 U.S.C. 1319(c)(3).

Visit our page on Clean Boating to learn more!

Ten Tips for Environmentally Friendly Boat Maintenance

Boaters enjoy the best of our waterways – the peace of being on the water, the ability to interact with nature, and the beauty of the open spaces. Whether you are in a personal watercraft, a row boat, or a large motorboat, each of us has a vested interest in the health of these waterways and natural resources. It’s this vested interest that drives many boaters and marina operators to ask what they can do to help the environment. The BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water works to help these groups understand specific actions they can take to protect the environment while having a great time on the water. Here are some ideas.

  1. Reuse and recycle. Recycle spent antifreeze, fuel, oil, oil filters, and batteries. Use less toxic propylene glycol antifreeze whenever possible, but check before mixing it with other antifreeze for recycling.
  2. Put a sturdy trash container on your boat. If it’s in an open area, make sure it has a locking lid to prevent light items from blowing away.
  3. Tune up your engine. A tuned engine improves fuel economy and burns fuel more efficiently, causing fewer emissions from entering the air and water.
  4. Clean your bottom. Keeping your hull clean and free of barnacles, grass and other marine growth will help reduce fuel consumption, and help increase your boats' performance. Use a hard (not ablative) anti-fouling paint if you plan on scrubbing the boat bottom while in the water.
  5. Recycle at your marina. If you do not currently have recycling at your marina, let the manager know that you and other boaters would support the separate collection of recyclables, particularly aluminum cans.
  6. Fix your prop. Damaged props greatly reduce the efficiency of your engine. Having a prop that is clean and in good condition will increase your performance, and help reduce fuel consumption.
  7. Clean your bilge. Having a clean bilge will help you spot fuel/oil leaks, and help you avoid discharging petroleum into the water. A clean bilge is also much easier on your nose!
  8. Wash your boat often. Try to wash your deck off regularly with fresh water and a scrub brush to reduce the amount of strong chemical cleaners needed throughout the boating season. If your boat is hauled for the winter, use that time to do any significant cleaning or repairs, to reduce the potential for pollutants to enter the water.
  9. Refuel carefully. Do not top off fuel tanks, because it usually leads to spillage.
  10. Clean naturally. By using natural cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda, or biodegradable cleaners and detergents, you will help reduce the amount of solvents and chemicals going into the water.