“Rules are made to be broken” is an old adage that often follows a poor decision. It might be a fun thing to say before taking a risk of some sort. But in the case of waste, rules are definitely in place for a reason.

If a municipality requires disposal of hazardous waste separately from the trash, that rule was implemented for a reason. If a recycling provider bans needles and batteries in its recycling program, it is warranted.

Not following the rules for disposing of materials can have harmful consequences. In recent months, several incidents where materials weren’t disposed of properly caused a lot of commotion and put waste and recycling workers and their customers at risk. The first occurred at the Metro South Transfer Station in Oregon City, Oregon, when a container of muriatic acid, also known as hydrochloric acid, tipped over, causing a chemical reaction. The chemical should not have been disposed of in the trash.

Another incident occurred inside a baler at the Kent County Recycling & Education Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Three small camping-style propane cylinders, which are not recyclable, wound up in the baler and caused an explosion.

In yet another incident, the discovery of picric acid in a customer’s car at the La Crosse County, Wisconsin, landfill, required the evacuation of the facility while hazmat teams detonated the substance.

Facilities aren’t the only segment of the waste industry at risk from improper disposal. Collection trucks also can catch fire if substances in trash or recyclables are flammable or combustible.

In Cleveland, media coverage of a series of garbage truck fires in the area prompted the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste Authority there to issue a warning. “Rechargeable batteries, pool chemicals and other reactive, flammable materials do not belong in the trash and require special disposal,” the authority cautioned residents. “The recent trash truck fires in Cuyahoga County highlight the need for residents to take advantage of the free household hazardous waste disposal program in their community.”

In the majority of these cases, proper disposal of hazardous materials could have avoided the incidents. Luckily, no one was seriously injured in any of the aforementioned events. But these incidents should serve as lessons. Hearing about the consequences of careless people’s actions hopefully will cause people to stop throwing items in the trash or recycling bin that don’t belong there just because it is easier than dropping them off at a proper disposal site.

Just as most people don’t want to be that person who throws a cigarette out of the car window and sparks a forest fire, they don’t want to be the one who threw out a hazardous chemical in the trash and caused an injury to someone.

If people choose to take a risk or break a rule from time to time, who am I to stop them from making that choice? If, however, one of the rules they are considering breaking has to do with their trash or recyclables, I hope they will think twice before proceeding. Someone’s life may depend on it.