To Toss or Not To Toss?

IMG_5637I often get asked “Well, now that we know it contains bio-available lead, what are we supposed to do with it? Do we just put it in the trash?  Or do we have to dispose of it as toxic waste?”

This is both a moral and ethical question—one that calls into question our laws, our standards and our collective conscience and intentions for the future.

I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but here are some thoughts…

1. I am working on starting a “lead museum”—a bit of an informal collection of things I have found in my travels that contain (expected or unexpected) high levels of lead. [Please consider sending the item to me (especially if it is is small / inexpensive to ship!)]

2. Was it recently manufactured? If so, please consider returning it.  Even if what you bought was being sold as “crystal” (as an example), I am sure you did not understand the implications of drinking from leaded crystal when you purchased it – and had you known, you would have purchased a similar item in unleaded glass. Returning these things to the manufacturer will help encourage  more environmentally responsible manufacturing processes (and hopefully you can also get your money back).

3. Is it a building component or an antique?  You have to determine if it has any value – to you or to someone else, and whether that value (as an antique [and important piece of our collective history] for example) outweighs the potential for the item to poison a child [or an adult for that matter.]  Can it be sealed or refinished to make it less hazardous? Will the sealing or refinishing diminish the value? Is it chipping or peeling?  And yes – as a consumer (and not as a contractor) you are fully and legally allowed to dispose of these things in your everyday household trash. Could you dispose of it as hazardous waste? Probably yes.  Would the hazardous waste site think you are crazy for taking an old piggy bank to their site instead of the regular dump?  Probably yes.

4. My main question is this: Is it better in our world – above ground? or below ground?  Even though landfill is an issue (and the potential for leaded items to impact the water table) I think given the amount of toxicity we have already in our landfills and the huge potential for a leaded item to cause harm, it is better for these items to go back underground – with the lead ending up at least a little closer to where it came from.  It’s not the same as putting it back in a mine, but it will give the next couple of generations the opportunity to recover their collective cognitive potential – making it possible for the young adults 20 or 30 years from now to come up with an even better solution.

Tamara Rubin
November 1, 2013

7 Responses to To Toss or Not To Toss?

  1. Katie July 12, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    We have this piggy bank, in pink. It was purchased in 2010. Was the one tested old or new???

    • Tamara July 12, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

      It was new. When we contacted Tiffany’s we were told that the item is not classified as an “item intended for children” as it is ceramic and considered (by them) to be “decorative” – with their logic (backwards logic if you ask me) being that children don’t play with decorations.

      From my point of view a piggy bank is intended for children and should be regulated just as any other toy for children is regulated. While the child is not likely to get poisoned from something like this (because it is probably not going to chip, crack or craze with regular use since it is not a food-use item and not exposed to heating, cooking, etc.) the concern for me is when it breaks and that sort of thing. Also – from a manufacturing and social responsibility standpoint – Tiffany’s of all places should NOT be using lead in the manufacturing of items that are clearly designed for children. The level of lead found in this piece was beyond a “contaminant” level and was likely an additive to the glaze, and there are clearly lead-free glazes out there so there is no reason this should not be 100% lead-free. #endrant 😉

      Thanks for your question Katie!

      • Katie July 12, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

        Thanks so much for your quick response. I would never have guessed this item was laced with lead. You are so right. This piggy bank is clearly made for a child, very fragile, handled (and shaken! oh) frequently. Shudder. The danger is clear.

      • Mary March 21, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

        I recently came across this post and we unfortunately have a similar bank from Tiffanys. Although we will remove it from our child’s room I am still unclear about the risk this and other items such as some bakeware or leaded crystal glasses pose. Is the danger of exposure present from simply touching these items? Does lead in the glaze or in glasses come off on hands? Or is the danger from when these items are broken, chipped, and/or we are eating and drinking from these products?

        Is there any concern about regular household dust settling on these items and lead from the items leaching into household dust (therefore creating lead laden dust?) we have a few decorative crystal pitchers and vases on our shelves that we don’t use but I am concerned now about handling them to pack them up or stirring up any dust that has been sitting on them. Any clarification would be so much appreciated!

  2. April M August 16, 2015 at 5:56 am #

    Thank you for posting this! I didn’t even think to consider the ceramic items my children have in their playroom – Old ceramic car “piggy” bank that was my husband’s growing up and some little Easter grass pots from Target that we got this year that are imports. I put them away until I decide on what to do with them. As I put them away in my secret kitchen nook, I realized I have more things that I’m not so sure of now – cake stands and bakeware from Portugal – AH! I wish I had one of those detection guns.

  3. Neha April 30, 2018 at 2:26 pm #

    Thanks a lot for your article Tamara.
    When you say seal the item, does keeping in enclosed glass help as sealing and prevent spreading?
    Or even sealing it with saran wrap and being kept?

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