Hazardous Waste Disposal: What Exactly IS Hazardous Waste?

Do you know what makes hazardous waste, well, hazardous? (Hint: it’s not all about medical waste)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authority over matters concerning hazardous waste disposal. But what exactly is hazardous waste? How is it disposed of?

Hazardous waste is a rather broad category, and it is handled very differently than any other type of waste.  Hazardous waste is defined as “… a waste with properties that make it potentially dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment. The universe of hazardous wastes is large and diverse. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, or contained gases.”

According to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), hazardous waste includes wastes that are:

  • Ignitable
  • Corrosive
  • Reactive
  • Acidic & Caustic
  • Metals that are toxic
  • Used Solvents
  • Sludges
  • Contaminated Soils
  • Plating Solutions
  • Cleaning Solutions

Given that hazardous waste is harmful in several ways, generators need to dispose of it differently than other waste.

The EPA has established three different sets of rules for the disposal of hazardous waste, and it all depends upon how much waste is generated.  Large quantity generators (LQGs) and small quantity generators (SQGs) have specific rules they each must follow.  There are some conditionally exempt small quantity generators (CESQGs) who do not have to comply with hazardous waste management regulations at all.

Hazardous waste generators must follow strict protocol before disposing of the waste, which includes:

  • Identifying the hazardous waste.
  • Tracking the volume of hazardous materials produced in a month (Are you a large generator? Small generator?)
  • 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.

Most hazardous wastes may not be “land disposed” unless they meet “treatment standards” as set for by the EPA’s Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) program.  It is the responsibility of the generator to ensure that any waste that is to be land disposed is either treated to reduce hazardous components to a level approved by the EPA, or by using a special, approved technology.

A number of industries handle and generate hazardous waste, some more than others, but failure to comply with federal and other regulations can result in fines or lawsuits.

Want to learn more? Follow Red Bags’ blog to be up to date on the latest happenings in the medical waste industry.

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