Old paint gave 17-year-old Meagan Santangelo a new picture recently of the hazardous and sometimes deadly household-waste threats lurking in basements, cupboards and garages around the state and across the country.

The revelation put the Middletown-area teen on a quest that brought new attention to the need for better household hazardous-waste disposal across Delaware, a state undistinguished for the way it manages millions of pounds of dangerous home castoffs.

Meagan, who was seeking a project suitable for her Girl Scout Gold Badge effort, decided to help her community get ahead in managing waste, from mercury-tinged compact fluorescent bulbs and slightly radioactive smoke detectors to toxin-filled batteries, poisonous pesticides and corrosive liquids.

“I originally thought I could do something like a paint collection — people have lots of paint sitting around their houses and don’t know what to do with it,” said Meagan, who hopes to earn the Girl Scouts’ highest award. “I found out it was a form of household hazardous waste, and there was a whole bunch of stuff you can’t throw regularly in the trash.”

Not only can’t you throw such waste into the trash, most of the time Delaware offers no legal option to drop off household hazardous waste. You’re forced to keep it in your garage or under the kitchen sink. Hazardous-waste drop-off sites are set up periodically, at various sites around the state. Some communities in nearby states offer year-round drop-off sites.

James Werner, air- and waste-management director for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, agreed that Delaware could do more, especially if lawmakers approve a proposed new $3-per-ton recycling surcharge on landfilled waste now before the General Assembly.

“Household hazardous-waste collections should not be newsworthy events,” Werner said. “They should be the routine.”

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