Learn everything about the dangers of hazardous waste, the importance and process of properly managing it, and the regulations governing it.
Published 17 Mar 2023
Hazardous waste management is a complex process that includes collecting, treating, transporting, and disposing of or recycling waste that could cause substantial harm to humans and the environment.
This is considered by many as a huge environmental concern. Humans generate trillions of pounds of waste annually, but there aren’t enough spaces for disposal anymore. Governments are pushing for proper waste management, especially for the kind which poses a dire threat to life.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines hazardous waste as waste that has a dangerous effect on humans and their surroundings. This can originate from various sources and take different physical forms (liquid, solid, or gas).
It is hard to define a particular substance as hazardous, which is why the agency created a system that could help them identify and regulate it.
Here are four types of hazardous wastes based on their key characteristics:
Although radioactivity is also detrimental to living things, it is not included in the list above mainly because two other government agency deal with this material. Found in “mixed radiological and hazardous waste,” the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are responsible for handling it. The EPA covers the ‘hazardous’ component of this type of waste.
Another characteristic not included in the list above is infectious. Also referred to as biohazards, this type usually comes from hospitals and laboratories and may contain harmful microbes. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is the governing office for this type.
Everyone knows that hazardous waste is dangerous. What a lot of people don’t realize is that this can come from anywhere. Everyday household or office items like batteries and cleaning products are, in fact, hazardous.
These eye-opening facts could hopefully move you to follow hazardous waste management best practices:
Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.
Although the goal is the same, every country, state, or province has its own hazardous waste management regulations.
In the United States, the EPA enforces the law relating to waste and pollution control in general. However, other agencies handle specific waste, like the DOD and the NRC for radioactive materials and the CDC for pathogenic and infectious wastes.
There are liabilities for not following the set rules for waste management. Other than fines, offenders may be subjected to civil and criminal proceedings.
There are several steps in the proper management of hazardous waste. Following these and the guidelines surrounding it is critical to ensure the health and safety of the people involved.
Because waste originates from various activities, generators are directly responsible for what becomes of the waste they have created. The following actions are imperative:
Companies should have the proper storage facilities and equipment for the waste they generated because collection and transportation do not happen immediately. Here are specific directives:
Well-equipped companies usually have their own provisions for treating these materials. But when they don’t, treatment is done in specialized facilities.
Special vehicles, appropriate containers, and certified transporters are required because the waste poses numerous threats to the areas traversed. Sometimes, transport needs come from the generators. Most of the time, third-party suppliers are hired. Whichever companies use, these EPA requirements must be met:
This aims to eradicate, or at the very least minimize, the harmfulness of the generated waste. Both government and private entities continue to figure out more viable and cost-effective methods. But here are some currently used today:
This final step does not mean just discarding the waste in a dump yard. Various disposal methods can be used, depending on the hazardous waste itself and the treatment it went through
Unknown to many, small businesses generate this type of waste. Solvents, paints, used oils, cleaning products, fluorescent light bulbs, and electronics (mobile phones and computers) all have toxic properties and must be disposed of correctly.
Yes. Hazardous wastes could cause a lot of damage to those handling them and the surroundings. Permits ensure that everyone involved underwent training and certification.
Yes. The EPA collects fees from generators to ensure regulatory activities like inspections and monitoring can happen. Every country or state has its rates for this.
No, unless the company is in the business of storing, transporting, or treating hazardous waste. The EPA does provide a guide for small businesses on proper hazardous waste management.
Hazardous waste management is crucial to protect human health and the environment from harm. The information detailed above is just the tip of the iceberg; this is a challenging endeavor with incredibly complex processes. While this task isn’t easy, SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) can help you get a good headstart.
Eunice Arcilla Caburao
Eunice is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. A registered nurse, theater stage manager, Ultimate Frisbee athlete, and mother, Eunice has written a multitude of topics for over a decade now.
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