If your company produces any kind of hazardous waste, it needs to have a hazardous waste management strategy in place. But what is hazardous waste management, exactly, and what are the best ways to implement this strategy?
The Basics of Hazardous Waste
Before we dig into the basics of hazardous waste management, we need to define what hazardous waste is. Hazardous waste is any kind of waste material that has a detrimental effect on either human beings directly or the ecosystems in which they live.
It’s most notably generated as a byproduct of manufacturing, but it can come from many sources and in many forms. For example, it could include liquids, solids, gases, and even sludges – and even includes household batteries that aren’t disposed of properly.
The EPA formally regulates what is classified as a “hazardous waste” in legal terms and lays out a process for how to properly handle it under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). It’s a business’s responsibility to know and follow these rules to remain compliant and protect the environment simultaneously.
Elements of Hazardous Waste Management
For your hazardous waste management strategy to work, you’ll need to pay attention to several areas:
- High-level strategy and planning. First, you’ll need to work to understand the types of hazardous waste that your business might be generating, the potential risks and damages associated with that waste, and the laws and regulations that apply to that waste. Then, you’ll need to put together a high-level strategy for how you’re going to plan the business around those limitations. This is why so many business leaders hire an environmental consultant to assist with their hazardous waste management program—an experienced advisor who can guide them through the process.
- Hazardous waste generation. You can think of hazardous waste management as addressing several links in a long chain; the first link is the generation of hazardous waste. Where is this waste coming from and are you fully aware of it? Are there any processes you can change to limit or even eliminate the production of hazardous waste? One of your biggest responsibilities will be minimizing the amount of waste created as a byproduct of your company’s operations, which could include a number of important procedural changes and internal adjustments.
- Hazardous waste transportation. Next, you’ll need to think about how you store and transport hazardous waste. For the most part, companies don’t have onsite equipment capable of properly treating and recycling hazardous waste on their own; instead, they ship it to a third party or an offsite location that can better handle it. The transportation process can be tricky; you might be transporting dangerous materials on a semi-truck across the country, which means an accident could result in an environmental catastrophe. Here, businesses need to understand and comply with federal hazardous materials regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
- Hazardous waste end-of-life management. Businesses also need to have some kind of plan in place for managing the hazardous waste’s end-of-life. What are you going to do with this waste to prevent it from causing harm to human beings or the environment? Depending on the waste in question, you might be responsible for treating the waste, processing it in a certain way to render it less harmful. You might be able to recycle the waste, breaking it down into its raw materials so it can be used for manufacturing in the future. You might need to store the waste, permanently restricting access to it, or you might simply dispose of it with a proper authority or in a proper location.
Properties of Hazardous Waste
It also pays to know the different types of qualities that waste can have that make it hazardous.
- Toxic. Toxic forms of waste are considered poisons; for example, carcinogens are known cancer-causing compounds and mutagens can trigger significant genetic changes in the future children of exposed individuals.
- Reactive. Unstable forms of waste are considered reactive, making them capable of violent reactions when exposed to water or air.
- Ignitable. Ignitable wastes can easily catch fire and/or burn at low temperatures, making them a fire hazard.
- Corrosive. Corrosive materials, usually strong acids or bases, can chemically react to a variety of materials and cause destruction.
- Infectious. Biological material, like used bandages and hypodermic needles, are considered hazardous waste because of their infectious capacity.
- Radioactive. Radioactive waste continuously radiates ionizing energy, which can be devastating to most living organisms.
If your business is going to produce or work with hazardous wastes, it needs to work with an environmental consultant to ensure it’s properly handling and disposing of those wastes. It could protect your workers, protect your environment, and ensure you’re following the law responsibly.