Tornado Cleanup: Safety and Waste Disposal


Tornadoes can be devastating events for many people. Not only do they destroy property and ruin lives, but they also leave behind a lot of debris that needs to be cleaned up. Cleaning up after a tornado is not just about removing the physical objects left on the ground – it’s also about disposing of any hazardous materials. In this blog post, we will cover safety tips for cleaning up after a tornado and how to properly dispose of your waste from cleanup efforts!

Tornado Cleanup Safety

Tornadoes are a dangerous event, and cleanup efforts should be treated with the same level of caution. Here is a list of general safety tips to keep in mind during your tornado clean-up effort:

  • Wear sturdy shoes and gloves
  • Avoid any downed power lines
  • Keep your distance from electrical transformers, as they may still carry deadly current even if the power is turned off.
  • Be aware of hazardous materials in your home, such as gas leaks and broken chemical containers.
  • Don’t let children touch or play with any debris you find during clean-up, these items may still be dangerous even if the tornado has passed.
  • Avoid floodwater since it can contain sharp objects and contamination from oil and other chemicals.

Hazardous vs. Non-Hazardous Waste

If you have a lot of debris that needs to be cleaned up, one important thing to remember is the difference between hazardous and non-hazardous waste. It’s easy to think about how much work will go into cleaning everything up – but first, it’s critical to know what kind of waste you’re dealing with.

Hazardous waste is any material that poses a threat to public health or the environment. It can be toxic, flammable, corrosive, or radioactive. Examples of hazardous waste include paints, solvents, pesticides, batteries, and fluorescent light bulbs. If you are unsure whether something is hazardous or not, it’s best to treat it as such and dispose of it properly.

Non-hazardous waste is any material that does not pose a threat to public health or the environment. This includes things like food scraps, paper products, plastics, and metals. Non-hazardous waste can usually be disposed of in your regular household garbage.

Getting Help after a Tornado

Skeletal remains of peaked roof on house hit by tornado

Many communities partner with waste handling companies to help collect debris, and residents need to place debris on their curbs in a prescribed manner. If you are unsure of how to dispose of your waste, or if you have hazardous materials, don’t hesitate to call your local government or the EPA for help.

For example, after a tornado in Chatanooga, TN in 2020, residents were instructed to sort their debris curbside into five categories:

  1. Electronics
  2. Large Appliances
  3. Hazardous Waste
  4. Vegetative Debris
  5. Household Garbage

It’s important to remember that communities can vary on what is and isn’t acceptable, so always check with your local government before starting any cleanup efforts.

In addition, residents are frequently requested not to bring their waste to any refuse centers because they would be unable to process the amount.

Avoiding Fines & Scams

After a tornado, FEMA may impose a deadline to have waste removed from your property. If you do not meet this deadline, you may be subject to fines from the government. It’s important to stay organized and keep track of all documentation related to your cleanup efforts so that you can avoid any penalties. Place debris in a location that makes removal easy. Do not block fire hydrants, roads, trees, poles, or other buildings that make relocation difficult.

Storm damage Broken tree in woods, springtime in northern Illinois

There are often damaged trees on properties after a tornado, so it is important to avoid tree trimming scammers by being aware of the following behavior:

  • Come to your door unexpectedly
  • Want a large down payment
  • Accept only cash or check
  • Drive an unmarked vehicle
  • Fail to notify you of your right to cancel

Curbside pickup of eligible storm debris is usually free for community residents, so be leary of companies offering to charge you to remove it. If you are contacted by a business soliciting your debris removal services, ask for identification and proof of insurance.

Removing Yard Debris

  • Cut fallen tree limbs into 4-foot sections.
  • Stack debris neatly at the curb, away from garbage.
  • Put tiny or loose items (branches, leaves, etc.) into tightly-lidded garbage cans or clear plastic bags.
  • Bundle groups of little branches and tie them together with rope. The weight of containers or bundles should not exceed 50 lbs.
Spring cuttings Piles of pruned tree branches arranged for pickup along curved path by woods in a public park, northern Illinois

Removing Building Debris

  • After a calamity, there may be mounds of broken building materials, including roof tiles, fractured framework, ripped screens (building debris), and damaged furniture or carpets (building contents).
  • Keep construction debris and building contents distinct from vegetative material and regular trash.
  • Alternative disposal locations may be designated, and special collection arrangements might be required.

Responsible Tornado Cleanup

The following are instances of tornado cleanup efforts after major catastrophes. It’s easy for workers to become lax during a traumatic event like tornado cleanup, and they may just shovel all of the debris into trucks destined for the landfill. However, numerous instances of ecologically responsible tornado cleanup suggest that there is another option.

A rusty handsaw lies amid broken boards and other debris four months after a tornado devastated the surrounding neighborhood in Washington, Illinois, USA

2007 Kansas Tornado

In May 2007, an F5 tornado struck Greensburg, Kansas. The EPA implemented a curbside collection of hazardous waste materials, including chlorine cylinders, ammonia tanks, propane tanks, oil, white goods (household appliances), and other dangerous household waste one week later. To avoid polluting the air and water in the region, these

Crew members were also deployed to evaluate damaged transformers for possible PCB contamination, as well as study aerial photographs of the area to locate and collect containers that had been knocked over by the storm.

2011 Alabama Tornado

The State of Alabama is frequently criticized by environmentalists for its lackluster enforcement of water and air quality laws. When it comes to tornado cleanup, though, the state shines.

In one instance in 2011, recycling more than 90% of the debris was required to rebuild Tuscaloosa, a city devastated by a twister. Fallen trees were taken to Birmingham and transformed into mulch, for example. This new approach to rubbish clearance conserves landfill space while reducing air pollution from incineration and injecting millions of dollars back into the local economy

2011 Tennessee Tornado

For many weeks after a deadly twister struck the tornado-ravaged hamlet of Apison, Tennessee, thousands of volunteers showed up to assist. As the community rallied, an unusual concept emerged. What if volunteers reclaimed wrecked, uninsured houses’ appliances, furnishings, and wood and supplied them to cash-strapped homeowners who needed to rebuild from the ground up without the aid of insurance? By recycling salvageable household goods instantly, this concept united the community while also reducing carbon emissions.

This waste was also transformed into mulch and made available to the community for free, rather than being hauled away in splintered wood and snapped tree branches. Undamaged wood, bathroom equipment, and appliances were likewise collected to assist individuals who had been destroyed their houses restore at a lower rate.

How Long Do Tornado Cleanup Efforts Take?

To avoid polluting the air and water in the region, waste disposal must be handled relatively quickly following a tornado. The EPA recommends that communities have a debris management plan in place for the first three days after a tornado. A well-organized response will also help reduce health risks associated with exposure to mold and other hazardous substances. The key to a successful, timely cleanup is having pre-determined roles for everyone involved, from homeowners and volunteers to government agencies and contractors.

Severe storm damage Part of a single-family two-story house hit by a tornado in central Illinois, USA


In conclusion, although it can take a while to complete tornado cleanup efforts depending on how much damage has been done in the area, waste disposal must be handled correctly following a tornado. This includes reducing air and water pollution by cleaning up materials promptly, minimizing landfill dumping by recycling materials whenever possible, and having a debris management plan in place. These steps, in addition to the proper safety precautions and scam avoidance, will help ensure that the community comes back together quickly and safely while also protecting the environment.

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Wastebits is a pioneering technology company founded in 2014, dedicated to revolutionizing the waste management industry through innovative software solutions. Our mission is to simplify and streamline waste management processes, promote environmental sustainability, and enhance regulatory compliance.

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Wastebits provides innovative waste management software that revolutionizes the way businesses handle their waste disposal and recycling needs. The platform serves as a one-stop-shop for waste generators, haulers, and disposal facilities, connecting them in real-time and providing transparency throughout the entire waste management process. With Wastebits, companies can ensure regulatory compliance, optimize waste diversion strategies, and make data-driven decisions for a more sustainable future.

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