Down the drain? Out with the trash?

Questions and answers about what should and should not be disposed of in sanitary sewers and the landfill   


What is wastewater?    

What is a sanitary sewer?

Are storm drains part of OWASA’s system?

How to dispose of various items--summary  

How to dispose of unused medication

Fat, oil and grease disposal--residences

Fat, oil and grease disposal--businesses

How to dispose of household hazardous wastes  

The household hazardous waste program accepts waste from small businesses

 Reduce your waste!  

 Questions or comments?



This is our only planet. Let’s take good care of it.


Liquid wastes which are safe for disposal in the public sewer system include body wastes; water from personal bathing, showering and washing; washing clothes and dishes; preparing food; and normal-strength cleaning fluids.

Refuse suitable for landfill disposal includes routine residential, business and institutional items other than liquid, hazardous, explosive and medical waste.

Products that are poisonous, corrosive, flammable, or otherwise harmful are considered “Hazardous Wastes.” If not used and disposed of properly, hazardous wastes may get into the soil, groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes.

Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) can be taken to Orange County’s HHW facility at 1415 Eubanks Road Mondays through Fridays from 10 AM to 6 PM, and on Saturdays from 7:30 AM to noon.

In addition to serving residents, the HHW facility is available for Orange County businesses that generate no more than 220 pounds a month of hazardous wastes and meet certain other requirements.

Medication should not be flushed down the drain. The Chapel Hill and Carrboro Police Departments have special drop boxes for safe disposal of unused medication on weekdays during the day. Additional information is below.


Wastewater includes body waste; water from bathing, showering and washing; washing clothes and dishes; washing, rinsing and otherwise preparing food; and from normal household cleaning with household detergents and cleaners.

Wastewater is distinguished from stormwater.  Stormwater is rainwater that has fallen on the ground, a building, parking or roadway, etc. and flows through ditches, storm drains, pipes, curb and gutter, etc. into streams, creeks, rivers and/or lakes.


A sanitary sewer is a publicly-maintained pipe, normally with a diameter of at least eight inches, which carries wastewater to a treatment plant.

A wastewater treatment plant uses physical, biological and chemical processes to clean and disinfect wastewater so that it can be returned to the natural environment, usually at a stream, creek or lake; or reused for non-drinking purposes in accord with State standards. 

In our community, the Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant on the southeast side of Chapel Hill returns highly treated wastewater to Morgan Creek, a tributary of Jordan Lake. We add chlorine to some of our treated wastewater, and the University uses this “reclaimed” water for non-drinking purposes such as make-up water in cooling towers, irrigation and flushing toilets in some facilities. 

The solid particles separated from wastewater are treated and converted into “biosolids” that are recycled on farmland to help grow crops for non-human consumption or used by a company that makes soil additives.


Towns and property owners are responsible for the stormwater drainage system, which is separate from OWASA’s sanitary sewer system. Separation of storm and sanitary sewers avoids wastewater overflows during storms. 

Please contact your Town’s stormwater managers for options of piping uncontaminated water from foundation drains, roof drains, or sump pumps into landscaped areas or the drainage system. These discharges are NOT allowed to be plumbed into OWASA’s sanitary sewers. Stormwater has traditionally been piped directly to creeks with no treatment.  New development requires stormwater management to prevent flooding and pollution of creeks and drinking water reservoirs.




Body waste and toilet paper

Sanitary sewer system

Water from bathing, brushing teeth, showering, washing hands, etc.

Sanitary sewer system

Water from washing clothes and dishes including fabric softener and bleach in rinse water

Sanitary sewer system

Water from preparing food

Sanitary sewer system

Water used in routine cleaning of floors, counters, appliances, etc. including normal-strength water-soluble cleaning fluids

Sanitary sewer system

Uncontaminated stormwater from foundation and roof drains or a  “sump pump” that gathers water in a basement, under a house, etc.

Direct this water to a landscaped area, rain barrel or cistern

Solid waste such as  food waste not suitable for composting, non-recyclable trash, debris, ashes, rags, animal tissue, cat litter, hygiene products, condoms, needles, razor blades, etc.


Baby wipes and other personal hygiene wipes including those labeled “flushable,” which do not break down like toilet paper and may block plumbing drain pipes and/or public sewers, resulting in wastewater back-ups and overflows


Pet waste bags


Fat and grease from a residence-up to one quart


Vegetable matter, grass clippings, tree and shrub cuttings, paper towels, packing peanuts made from corn starch


Paper including newspapers, magazines, phone books, junk mail; gable-topped cartons (for beverages, soup, etc.); flat-topped aseptic boxes; cereal boxes and other single layer cardboard


Corrugated cardboard, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles and jugs, metal food and drink cans


Fat, oil and grease from a restaurant or similar business

Fat, oil and grease can be captured in a grease trap for collection by a private company and subsequent recycling. Used cooking oil can be separately recycled to make biodiesel, etc.

Cooking oil from a residence

Recycle through the County’s Household Hazardous Waste program (HHW)

Large amounts (more than one quart) of fat and grease from a residence


Automotive fluids, lubricants and other chemicals including used oil and oil filters, anti-freeze, brake and transmission fluid

HHW (also accepted at Orange County’s Solid Waste Convenience Centers)

Other mineral oils


Lawn, garden, and pool chemicals


Gasoline, kerosene, and other fuels and substances that may explode or burn


Chemicals used in pools and hot tubs


Corrosive substances (acidic or alkaline items including but not limited to those with a pH lower than 6 or higher than 10).


Fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides/insecticides in solid, liquid or spray form.


Metals and metal compounds including mercury, lead, etc.


Detergents with more phosphate than allowed under NC law


Paint, stains, wood preservatives, solvents, sealants, thinners, poisons


Nail polish and nail polish remover


Undiluted bleach, drain cleaner and hair dye


Fluorescent lights--both straight and helical, CFL, or "twisted" tubes


Thermostats containing mercury


Cylinders containing compressed gases



HHW (also accepted at Solid Waste Convenience Centers)

Medication (unused or expired)

Drug take-back programs and events. Please click here for information about the drug take-back programs at the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Police Departments.


The Chapel Hill and Carrboro Police Departments have “drop boxes” for safe disposal of unused medication. Please click here for more information including the locations, days and hours when drop boxes are available for medication disposal, and the kinds of items that are eligible for this program.


Fat, oil and grease (FOGs) from residences should NOT be disposed of in a sink, drain, or toilet. Fat, oil and grease can block and thereby cause wastewater overflows from the public sewer system as well as blocking private plumbing drains.

Residents should dispose of small amounts (1 quart or less) of fat and grease in a sealed container with household solid waste.

In general, liquids should not be disposed of with regular garbage. Therefore, please make an effort to “solidify” fat, oil and grease by absorption into paper towel(s) or newsprint, etc.

Households with cooking oil or more than one quart of fat and grease should deliver these items to the Household Hazardous Waste Collection program (Please see the Household Hazardous Waste section of this brochure for more information.)

FATS, OIL AND GREASE (FOG) FROM BUSINESSES SUCH AS RESTAURANTS also should not go into the sewer system. FOG can be captured in a grease trap and regularly removed by a company that recycles the FOG, however, businesses with significant amounts of used cooking oil are encouraged to contract with a company that collects and recycles the oil for use in making biofuels, and other products. Businesses and other organizations with UP TO TEN GALLONS OF COOKING OIL PER MONTH can take it to the Household Hazardous Waste facility for recycling.


Household hazardous wastes should not be put in a sewer or landfill because HHWs can harm the natural environment, animals, people, the landfill, sewers or the wastewater treatment plant.

The HHW facility at 1514 Eubanks Road is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 AM to 6 PM and on Saturdays from 7:30 AM to noon. The HHW program is just north of Chapel Hill and 1.25 miles west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard just south of I-40.

Please bring items in their original containers with original labels intact whenever possible; do not mix wastes; and do not bring explosives, infectious wastes, or radioactive materials.

Orange County businesses can participate in the HHW program if the representative delivering waste certifies that the business:


  • does not generate more than 220 pounds of hazardous waste per month, and
  • does not generate acute hazardous waste as defined in Federal rules (40 CFR 261.31, 261.32, or 261.33 [e]) at a rate over 2.2 pounds per month.

Businesses with more than 50 cans of paint should call 919-968-2788 to schedule an appointment.


  • Buy only items you need and in the amounts you need.
  • Use up any hazardous products completely, following the instructions on the label.
  • Use non-toxic or less toxic products.
  • Use multi-purpose cleaners instead of a collection of specialized cleaning products.
  • Compost items such as vegetable food scraps and leaves.
  • Rinse and recycle empty containers that held water-soluble cleaners.

For more information, please visit , call 919-968-2788 or send e-mail to



For questions about whether to dispose of a particular item through the sewer or wastewater system, please contact OWASA at 919-968-4421 or send an e-mail to

For questions about whether to dispose of a particular item with normal household or business refuse that will be put in a landfill, please contact Orange County Solid Waste at 919-968-2788 or or call your local public works department.

The information above is provided through the cooperation of the

Orange Water and Sewer Authority

A public, non-profit agency providing water, sewer and reclaimed water services to the Carrboro-Chapel Hill community 

400 Jones Ferry Road, Carrboro, NC 27510;    E-mail:

Telephone: 919-968-4421; Fax: 968-4464

Orange County Department of Solid Waste Management

1207 Eubanks Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27516;   E-mail:

Telephone: 919-968-2788; Fax: 932-2900;   Website:

Town of Chapel Hill Stormwater Management Division 

208 North Columbia Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514; E-mail

Telephone: 919-969-RAIN; Fax: 969-7276;   Website: