Waste Happens to Waste When it leaves your home: Hazardous Waste Management

Hazardous waste is defined as any waste stream that can potentially cause harm to humans, animals and the environment. Many of the waste streams we generate are classified as hazardous waste. They can be generated domestically from things like used batteries and cleaning chemicals as well as from industrial and agricultural activities. Hazardous waste can be solid, liquid and even gaseous in nature. A list of some of the common sources of hazardous waste are;

  • Domestic; these are hazardous waste items generated from our homes. They include items like used batteries, chemical containers, aerosols, used tube lights and bulbs to name a few. Safe disposal of these items is essential to avoid harm to our family members, especially in homes with children, and the environment.
  • Industrial: these are hazardous waste streams generated from industrial operations and chemicals. Most industries use inputs or generate by-products that are of hazardous nature. The volumes in this case are usually substantially higher than hazardous waste generated from home and as such require more comprehensive planning and resources for collection, handling storage and disposal. Different countries and jurisdictions have regulations governing hazardous waste management to ensure adequate containment, treatment and disposal. Some examples of hazardous waste generated from industrial facilities include; expired chemicals, effluents, paints, fuels, contaminated rags and rags, etc. 
  • Agricultural: operations also generate quite a bit of hazardous waste. From fertilisers to herbicides and animal waste. Similar to industrial waste, some jurisdictions have regulations in place that govern the proper handling, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste generated from agricultural activities
  • Construction: construction sites generate hazardous waste from the construction activities carried out on development projects. Most big projects would have a construction waste management plan in place which defines the processes for managing waste generated from construction activities including hazardous waste. 

Hazardous Waste Classification. 

According to the UN, there are 9 classifications of hazardous waste.

  • Class 1: these include explosive and or fire hazard substances.
  • Class 2: these include flammable gases, non-flammable non-toxic gases and toxic gases. 
  • Class 3: these include flammable liquids
  • Class 4: these include flammable solids, substances which, on contact with water, emit flammable gases, self-reactive substances and are liable to spontaneous combustion.
  • Class 5: these include oxidising substances and organic peroxides
  • Class 6: Toxic and infectious substances 
  • Class 7: Radioactive materials 
  • Class 8: Corrosive substances 
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous dangerous substances and articles, including environmentally hazardous substances

The environmental regulatory agencies in different countries also have their own classifications which are more or less similar to the UN classification.

In the remaining sections of this article, we will describe the processes for hazardous waste management from storage to collection and transport to treatment and final disposal. 

1. Storage

Depending on the type and volume of hazardous waste, there are different types of containers that can be used to store them to help minimise the risk of spillage and harm to the environment. For liquids, 200L drums and 1000L IBC tanks are some of the common options. 

For solids, 240L and 10 CBM closed waste skips of different sizes can be used. Gaseous hazardous waste, which comes mainly from industrial operations is stored in pressurised containers. There should be proper labelling identifying the hazardous waste storage containers. Every jurisdiction has guidelines for the proper labelling of containers for hazardous waste storage. Here is an example of a hazardous waste storage label. 

Industrial facilities which generate large volumes of hazardous waste would require storage facilities that are designed to be safe and secure to ensure hazardous waste does not escape into the environment, storage facilities are constructed in such a way that the materials cannot be released into the air or water.

Storage facilities are designed to prevent the release of hazardous waste into the environment. For example, some storage sites have walls made out of concrete or clay that can withstand heavy rainfall and retain water for long periods of time without letting it sink down into the soil below.

Storage facilities are designed to prevent the release of hazardous waste into the air by preventing toxic gases from escaping through vents or pipes that lead outside

2. Collection

Once the waste leaves your home or business, it can be collected in a variety of ways. Hazardous waste may be collected in drums, containers, bags or other types of packaging. It may be collected from homes and businesses by a special service that picks up hazardous materials from households and businesses. 

In some cases, hazardous waste will be collected at an industrial site where chemicals are being used for manufacturing purposes so that the toxic substances do not get released into the environment. The collection process is designed to prevent contamination and ensure that the proper procedures are followed when dealing with dangerous materials such as radioactive isotopes or pesticides (which can sometimes get mixed together with household trash).

3. Transport

Transporting hazardous waste is regulated by the Environmental Agency of municipal authorities of different countries. Hazardous waste must be transported by a licensed transporter and must be transported in a proper container. 

Hazardous waste transportation vehicles have labels which identify the type of classification of hazardous waste it is transporting to warn other road users and for ease of identification in case of emergencies. Depending on the type of hazardous waste, it can be transported in tankers, covered flatbed trucks or pickup trucks. 

The container must also be labelled properly with the words “Hazardous Waste,” along with an indication of its contents (such as “Chemicals”). Here is a sample of the vehicle label for hazardous waste transportation 

Treatment and Disposal options for hazardous waste

Different treatment and disposal solutions are available for hazardous waste depending on the type. Some of the broad categories of hazardous waste treatment solutions are;

  • Biological treatment: This method uses bacteria to break down waste and release the nutrients it contains into the soil—though it can be used only with certain types of chemicals.
  • Thermal disposal: In this process, liquid or solid hazardous wastes are burned in an incinerator at high temperatures. This can be done either on-site or off-site; if done on-site, it requires careful monitoring because of emissions produced by the burning process itself (such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter). If done off-site (because local environmental laws prohibit such incineration), then transport costs must also be considered when determining whether this is a cost-effective option for your business’s waste management needs.
  • Chemical Treatment: this involves chemically treating hazardous chemicals to make them inert and less harmful to the environment or to create by-products that can be used by other industries. An example would be the conversion of acids to salts through chemical processes. 
 

Once the hazardous waste is sufficiently treated to make them stable or inert, it can be disposed of at a designated hazardous waste landfill if no alternative secondary use option is available for it. 

 

Proper disposal of hazardous waste is essential to prevent the contamination of natural resources.

Proper disposal of hazardous waste is essential to prevent the contamination of natural resources. Hazardous wastes can be treated and disposed of in a safe manner. The following guidelines will help you to properly dispose of your waste:

  • Contact your local government agency for proper disposal instructions on specific materials that are not mentioned here. This can include paints, solvents, pesticides, batteries and some other materials.
  • Most chemicals would come with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or equivalent which defines the nature of the chemical, guidelines for handling it as well as emergency guidelines to follow in case of exposure to the chemical. They would also include some information for the safe disposal of the chemicals. 
 

Remember to follow all safety precautions when handling them and then place them in an approved container before transporting them away from your home or workplace. If you are not sure, look up the contact information of the municipal or local authorities in charge of waste management and see advice from them.

Conclusion

Every human activity generates hazardous waste in one form or the other, as detailed in the article. To safeguard ourselves and the environment, it is crucial that they are handled adequately in line with applicable local guidelines to ensure safe disposal with minimal harm to the environment. 

If you generate waste which you suspect might be hazardous either at home or your place of work, I recommend you call the local authority in your location to get more guidance on safe disposal of the waste item. If you found this article information, please share it with someone you know would benefit from it. 

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