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Alternatives to Toxic Substances

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Education for Homeowners

Photo of examples of alternative products include rechargeable batteries, baking soda, olive oil, vegetable oil, a lemon, a toothbrush, and a rag


Using alternative products instead of toxic substances drastically reduces the presence of toxics in stormwater and receiving waters. Common toxic substances found in the home are cleaners, automotive products, and pesticides. Other common hazardous substances that are found in homes are fertilizers, paints, and fuels (WEF and ASCE, 1998). This measure is targeted to educating homeowners to prevent such substances from entering stormwater by substituting these common household products with safer, less-toxic alternatives.


The promotion of safer alternative products should be coupled with other efforts designed to reduce the presence of hazardous or toxic materials from households and stormwater runoff. Examples of such programs include hazardous materials collection, good housekeeping or material management practices, proper disposal, oil and automotive waste recycling, and spill response and prevention (WEF and ASCE, 1998).

Examples of commonly used products and safer alternatives are as follows (adapted from Washington State Department of Ecology):

  • Aerosols. Use pump-type or non-aerosol products.
  • Art supplies. Purchase water-based paints or inks. They should not contain lead or other toxic materials.
  • Batteries. Rechargeable batteries are a cost-effective alternative to disposable batteries.
  • Chemical fertilizers. Composting yard clippings and food scraps is an option. Manure (in measured amounts) is another alternative to chemical fertilizers.
  • Gasoline. Not driving at all is the best way to reduce gasoline use. Purchasing a super-efficient hybrid or electric vehicle is the next best alternative. Carpooling, walking, bicycling, and public transportation are other viable options.
  • Motor Oil. Use re-refined motor oil. Doing so will spur the market for recycled motor oil and decrease reliance on new oil supplies.
  • Pesticides. Keeping homes and gardens tidy reduces the food supply for insect pests, averting the need for pesticides. Onion, garlic, and marigold plants help keep garden pests at bay.
The City of Wichita Exit EPA Site, Kansas, has developed a website that lists safer alternatives to hazardous materials (City of Wichita, Kansas, 2005). Knowing the definitions of terms typically seen on hazardous materials is also important. A fact sheet Exit EPA Site was developed for The Ohio State University Extension that explains the classifications of hazardous waste (Heimlich, No date).


Education is one of the best ways to encourage homeowners to switch to alternatives (see Proper Disposal of Household Hazardous Wastes fact sheet). Municipalities can compile a list of alternative products and post it on their website. They can publish it in a newsletter, include it as an insert in a utility bill, or print it on magnets or other objects of everyday utility used in homes, such as calendars. Municipalities might choose to include commercially available products that have been shown to be "green" alternatives to harsh chemicals.


In some cases, alternative products may not be readily available. Cost can also be a limiting factor. For example, until recently, environmentally friendly de-icing materials for roads were significantly more expensive than traditional salt (Babcock 1998). The perception of the effectiveness of alternative products may be a barrier to overcome.

The biggest impediment to instituting widespread use of alternative products is public awareness. Municipal staff must convince people to change old habits or to try new products.


Using alternative products instead of toxic substances limits risks of improper disposal, spills, leaks, and excess runoff that can get into the stormwater and averts the need to dispose of stormwater-contaminating hazardous waste.

Cost Considerations

Staff hours comprise the largest expense for this BMP. Municipalities can avoid any cost increases by launching an alternative products campaign in conjunction with other public awareness programs.


Babcock, Charles R. 1998, April 27. Slick Hill Work by De-Icer Entrepreneur. Washington Post, A15.

City of Wichita, Kansas. 2005. Safer Alternatives to Hazardous Products. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Heimlich, Joe E. The Ohio State University Extension. No date. Hazardous Materials in the Home. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. 2001. Household Hazardous Wastes: Less Toxic Alternatives for Cleaning. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Tacoma, WA. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 15, 2005.

Washington State Department of Ecology. Turning the Tide on Toxics in the Home: A Guide to Safer Alternatives and Proper Disposal of Hazardous Household Products.

Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). 1998. Urban Runoff Quality Management. WEF Manual of Practice No. 23 and ASCE Manual and Report on Engineering Practice No. 87. WEF Water Quality and Ecology Subcommittee of the Technical Practice Committee and The Urban Water Resources Research Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Alexandria and Reston, VA.


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Last updated on July 31, 2013