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Q. Dear Umbra,

My father, a lawman, passed away over 20 years ago. A couple of years ago I was going through some old boxes and found 20 or so fairly old bullets. I’m not a gun person and I want to get rid of them safely. I read that some police departments will accept old bullets. I called, but the Houston PD doesn’t, nor did they have a suggestion. I hesitate to put them into the garbage or bury them in the backyard. What if I threw them in a lake? Any suggestions?

Doug K.
Houston, Texas

Photo by Richard Alexander Caraballo.

A. Dearest Doug,

Well. There are recycling conundrums, and then there are recycling conundrums. Yours is one I don’t think I’ve seen before, but let’s see what we can do — and thank you for being so thoughtful about this choice.

First of all, do not give in to temptation and throw the bullets in a lake. I’m assuming you suggest this because you’ve heard that submerged bullets will no longer fire, but this is not always true. More to the point, our lakes are not repositories for our trash. On top of that, most bullets contain lead — you can read all about this notorious neurotoxin at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. Though lead occurs naturally in soil, we humans have made a practice of adding lots more of it to our immediate surroundings, to the detriment of public health.

Lead bullets in waterways can put wildlife at risk and even, some say, threaten water supplies.

There’s a movement afoot to shift away from lead bullets for hunting in the U.S. (a ban already exists in parts of California, to help protect condors suffering from lead poisoning). In Sweden and Norway, concerns about health and environmental risks from lead bullets have even led the military to choose alternative materials.

Depending whom you ask, this is either classic, eco-lefty mumbo-jumbo or a sane anti-poisoning-ourselves stance. But no, you don’t want to toss your stash into the deep.

Frankly, I am peeved that the Houston Police Department did not see fit to give you a more helpful answer. I understand that the degree to which one gets all het up about gun control varies from region to region in this here land o’ the free, but I should think a concerned citizen calling about safely disposing of ammunition would warrant more than a shrug. In many, many places — perhaps everywhere but Houston — the local police department will gladly receive and dispose of ammunition. Some will even come pick it up. So dearest readers who are facing this dilemma in other areas, do try your police department first.

Doug, I think your next best bet would be the fire department. If that is a similar non-starter, you might try a firing range (though firing ranges, logically, are a source of lead contamination). I hear tell they sometimes have a system for disposing of unwanted or unusable ammunition, and even if they don’t, they could probably tell you who in the area does.

As you will discover, or perhaps already have, municipal waste and recycling departments generally put ammunition on the list of items they are not keen to take. Too risky.

Cautiously,
Umbra