The United States is one of the largest producers of waste worldwide. The U.S. produces an average of more than 1,700 pounds of hazardous, plastic, and food waste per person. This volume of waste adds up to 239 million tons annually.
The North American Waste management market was valued at 208 billion U.S. dollars in 2019 with the U.S. accounting for much of the market.
Within the various types of waste that are generated in the U.S., anything deemed hazardous is regulated by the EPA under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which gives the EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the “cradle-to-grave.” This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste.
One distinction we need to be careful to make concerns the difference between ‘hazardous waste’ and ‘toxic waste.’ Hazardous waste may sometimes be toxic, but toxic waste is always hazardous. Think of toxic as a stronger category of harm. In this article, we will discuss the meaning of toxic waste specifically, and its disposal.
All hazardous waste is not toxic waste
According to the EPA, a waste that does not appear on a special Listed wastes group needs to be labeled ‘hazardous’ when it meets one of the four waste characteristics. These are:
You may think of the ‘hazardous’ label as a catchall for all types of waste that may be dangerous in a few manners. According to the EPA’s definition, toxic waste is the only waste that when absorbed or ingested, is fatal or harmful to living organisms.
A waste characteristic denotes specific ways in which waste can potentially be hazardous. It means that toxicity is a hazardous attribute of some wastes just like corrosive describes a particular hazardous quality of other wastes.
What is considered toxic waste
Toxic waste is unwanted material in all forms that may cause harm by swallowing, inhaling, or being absorbed through the skin. Toxic waste can harm the environment, including plants, animals, and people. It ends up in the ground, streams, or even in the air. Some toxins like lead and mercury persist in the environment for many years and accumulate over time. Wildlife or humans often absorb these toxic substances when they eat fish or other prey. Many of today’s household products like televisions, phones, computers contain toxic chemicals that can pollute water, soil, and air. Disposing of this kind of waste can be a major public health issue.
Toxic materials are poisonous byproducts. Many industries generate toxic waste — hospitals, laboratories, automotive garages, construction, water treatment systems, farming, and manufacturing. All of these industries can generate waste which may contain heavy metals, toxins, dangerous pathogens, or radiation, all of which causes health issues in the human body. The waste may be sludge, solid, or liquid. Even households generate hazardous waste from items like leftover pesticides or paints, used computer equipment, certain lightbulb materials, or batteries.
Types of toxic waste
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified 11 key substances that pose a risk to human health:
- Clinical wastes
- Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs
- Persistent organic pollutants or POPs
- Alkalis or strong acids
A few hazardous and toxic wastes in everyday household products that can be improperly disposed of are also a concern — car oil, paint, pesticides, old batteries, and corrosive materials.
Toxic waste in practice
A common tactic for storing hazardous waste is to employ facilities that store materials in sealed containers in the ground. Less toxic waste that is unlikely to migrate (like soil contaminated with lead) is sometimes allowed to be left in place and sealed with a cap of hard clay. Communities can then decide to use the sites as parks or golf courses. They can be labeled as ‘brownfield’ sites suitable for industrial or commercial uses.
Dumping untreated waste on the ground or in municipal landfills is forbidden and can result in hefty fines or sometimes even criminal charges and jail time.
Disposal of household toxic waste
The best way to manage household toxic waste is to not have any in the first place. Try to buy only as much chemical product as you need so that it is used up when your project is complete, and you have no need for disposal options.
Some products can be recycled. For example, some solvents like paint strippers can have a second life if you allow them to sit a few days. You can pour off the top liquid into a clean jar after the solid settles to the bottom. In most cases, you can also toss the solids into the trash. Products like automotive lubricants can be taken to local gas stations for recycling.
Disposal of industrial toxic waste
When we talk about business, industrial, and manufacturing waste, it’s crucial to get expert advice. One of the oft-forgotten imperatives of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is that companies will be responsible for any hazardous waste they generate from the manufacturing to the end product. This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of all hazardous waste.
CWE’s role in Industrial Hazardous Waste disposal
Since 1995 Clean Water Environmental has held a RCRA Facility Part B permit to operate a hazardous waste Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF). EPA hazardous wastes (as defined in 40 CFR part 261 and OAC 3745-51) are presently permitted for management at the facility. These permitted wastes are accepted for storage and transferred off-site for fuels blending, incineration or stabilization. Some transfers are “as is” in container, while others are bulked up for transport.
We operate one of the region’s few permitted Central Water Treatment (CWT) facilities capable of managing RCRA Hazardous wastewaters.
Our entire operation, not only the RCRA-permitted areas, operates under our Waste Analysis and Acceptance Plan (WAP) procedures. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) at both our Dayton and Mansfield facilities are heavily influenced by hazardous waste procedures. We treat all aspects of our receiving, permitted or not, the same way we treat the most complex material.
Handling hazardous waste is a complicated business. We’re here to help you with every aspect of a project to be sure it’s done correctly. Contact us to start the discussion.