5 Types of Hazardous Waste and How They Should Be Properly Contained

Does the term hazardous waste conjure up images of drums of oozing liquid covered in skull and cross-bone warning signs? Even though that would be perfectly correct, the subject covers much more than that. Almost any industry or manufacturing process can generate toxic waste, which means there are many types of hazardous waste that pose threats to our health or our environment.

Pesticides? Most people know about that one. Gasoline? Hazardous as well. Old computers? Even that! Today we’re going to break down the five hazardous waste categories so you can better understand what makes a type of waste hazardous. We’ll also provide insight on how to best contain and dispose of them, should you ever need to do so.

hazardous waste

1. Listed Waste

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are specific wastes it has determined as hazardous. The agency has also published three lists to classify these listed wastes, so companies will know how to contain and handle them.

  • F-List – Wastes on this list come from common industrial and manufacturing processes. Given the fact that multiple industries are responsible for generating these wastes, they are also called “non-specific source waste.”
  • K-List – This list includes wastes (including wastewater or sludge), from a selection of specific industries, such as pesticide manufacturing or petroleum refining. Since we know the industry that produces these, they are also known “source-specific wastes.”
  • P-list and U-list – These wastes are commercial chemical products discarded in their unused form. They only become hazardous when discarded.

2. Characterized Waste

The listed waste leaves out plenty of waste materials from other sources. If they meet one or more of the outlined characteristics of hazardous waste, then we can say these materials are also hazardous.

  • Ignitability – Spontaneously combustible materials, materials that create fire under certain conditions, or materials that have a flash point less than 140F (60C).
  • Corrosivity – Bases or acids that can corrode drums, metal tanks, or other toxic waste containers. Their pH is less than 2 or greater than 12.5.
  • Reactivity – These waste materials have an unstable state under normal conditions. They can cause toxic fumes, explosions, gases, or vapors if compressed, heated, or mixed with water.
  • Toxicity – If ingested or absorbed, these toxic materials can be harmful or lethal. When disposed of in landfills, toxicity can leak or be absorbed into the ground and contaminate ground water.

3. Universal Waste

The hazardous waste included in the universal waste category refers to very common materials that you may find in your household. More specifically, this type of toxic waste includes batteries, equipment containing mercury (such as lamps), and various pesticides. Any of these items should be disposed of with care and according to regulation (find out how in the second part of this article).

4. Mixed Waste

The forth category of hazardous waste contains both radioactive and toxic components. Most commercially generated waste is low-level mixed waste, since it also contains low-level radioactive waste. Many industries generate it, including the pharmaceutical, medical, nuclear, and other energy industries.

radioactive waste

5. E-Waste

E-waste – or electrical or electronic waste – is a growing hazardous waste category in our tech-savvy world. It includes mostly old TVs, computers, printers, fridges, and even an old toaster or coffee maker. Many of these electronic devices contain components that are hazardous due to changes during the manufacturing process. Read this article to find out more about e-waste statistics and recycling tips.

Containing and Disposing of Hazardous Waste

Given that hazardous waste is harmful in several ways, industries and companies need to dispose of it differently than non-hazardous waste. So there are currently three approved methods for disposing of hazardous waste.

1. The first method is to make sure solid hazardous waste ends up in sanitary landfills. With this method of waste disposal, the waste is buried either underground or in large piles. Unlike landfills for non-hazardous waste, these special landfills are constructed and monitored differently. Landfills for toxic waste use thicker, impervious liners and more heavy-duty removal systems. This way, we prevent leaching materials from being absorbed into the ground. Their locations are also far from aquifers, thus reducing the risk of water contamination.

2. Liquid or dissolved hazardous waste is often sent to surface impoundments. They are shallow holes in the earth lined with plastic and impervious materials. Once the liquid waste ends up in the impoundment, it takes time to evaporate. After evaporation, the solid hazardous waste residue at the bottom of the impoundment is moved to a landfill. Because surface impoundments pose many risks, including contamination, industries use it only for temporary processing and storage.

3. Deep-well injection is the third method of hazardous waste disposal. It involves injecting the liquid waste into a well dug in the porous rock deep below the water level. In the United States, industries inject around nine billion gallons of hazardous waste into deep-wells each year. Even though this is a long-term method of hazardous waste disposal, it doesn’t always succeed in keeping the waste away from ground water. In some cases, the wells leak or become damaged, allowing the toxic waste to contaminate the water supply.

toxic barel

Disposal Steps for Hazardous Waste Generator Companies

If a company is a hazardous waste generator, this is what it has to do to keep in line with the current regulations:

  • First, identify the hazardous waste generated by the company;
  • Count the total weight of the hazardous materials produced in a month. Determine in which of the three generator categories the company falls in: Large Quantity Generator (more than 1,000 kilograms), Small Quantity Generator (100 – 1,000 kilograms) or Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator (less than 100 kilograms);
  • Large and Small Quantity Generator should notify the EPA of hazardous waste activities.
  • Companies should manage toxic waste categories according to specific regulations for each category.
  • Hazardous waste should be transported from the company’s site to an off-site waste management facility. Proper forms and reports are required.
  • Handling toxic waste includes recycling, treating or disposing of the materials.

The simplest way to ensure environmentally responsible disposal of hazardous waste is to contact an environmental recovery or waste disposal team. They are well-versed in the local, state, and federal regulations, so they will handle and dispose of hazardous waste materials in accordance to the law.

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William E. Eubanks
 

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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