Hazardous wastes are wastes that have the potential to harm humans or the environment. Household hazardous wastes like oils, chemicals, batteries, old computers and mobile phones should be discarded or recycled safely and responsibly to protect the environment and keep your home safe.
Handling and storage suggestions
To handle hazardous waste at home safely you should:
- Keep the goods in their original containers if possible. If containers are leaking, use new containers but never use food containers like soft drink bottles.
- Don’t mix chemicals when decanting a substance into a new storage container.
- Make sure all labels, including warning labels and manufacturer’s instructions, remain intact on the packaging.
- Store goods upright with lids secured tightly and out of the reach of young children.
- Keep all ignition sources, such as matches, well away from the storage area.
- Keep the storage area cool and dry.
- Buy the smallest amount for your needs.
How to dispose of hazardous waste
Always store hazardous wastes properly while waiting for a suitable disposal method. There are various schemes in Victoria to recycle and dispose of household hazardous waste. For example:
- Computers –materials used to make computer equipment contain valuable resources that can be re-used. They also contain hazardous materials that could pose a threat to the environment if they are not disposed of in a responsible manner. In Victoria, unwanted computer equipment – monitors, keyboards, laptops, CD and disc drives – can be recycled through the Byteback scheme. Some councils and equipment manufacturers also provide a disposal service for unwanted computers and equipment. Contact your local council or equipment manufacturer for details.
- Mobile phones and phone batteries – some mobile phones and accessories contain heavy metals. Mobile phone retailers, some banks and other retail stores will accept used mobile phones for recycling as part of MobileMuster, the mobile phone industry recycling program.
- Rechargeable batteries – batteries can be taken to Detox your home collections and some permanent sites or to one of a small number of Batteryback or company-owned retail locations.
- Car batteries – these are collected at many council waste transfer stations, landfills and some major battery retailers. Contact your local council.
- Gas cylinders (LPG) – these include cylinders used for BBQs, patio heaters, caravans, camping and lamps. These cylinders can be returned through swap programs provided by retailers for replacement, refilling or disposal. Charges may apply in some instances.
- Used motor oils – these can be recycled. There are over 100 motor oil collection points at transfer stations across Victoria. You can return a maximum of 20 litres of motor oil per visit. Contact your local council or use the Oil directory.
- Laser and printer inkjet cartridges – these can be taken to Australia Post and Harvey Norman outlets for recycling.
- Fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent globes (CFLs) – fluorescent lamps and other mercury products, including mercury spills, can be taken to Detox your home collections, selected retail outlets and some permanent sites.
- Plastic shopping bags – supermarkets have collection bins for used plastic shopping bags for recycling. Plastic shopping bags create an ugly litter problem if not recycled or disposed of properly. If these bags get into waterways, they may be a threat to wildlife.
- Unused medicines – take unused pharmaceuticals, including prescription and non-prescription drugs, to a pharmacist for disposal through the Return of Unwanted Medicines program. Always store unused pharmaceuticals out of reach of children before you dispose of them.
Final disposal of hazardous waste
Historically, some hazardous wastes were disposed of in regular landfills. This resulted in unfavorable amounts of hazardous materials seeping into the ground. These chemicals eventually entered natural hydrologic systems. Many landfills now require countermeasures against groundwater contamination, an example being installing a barrier along the foundation of the landfill to contain the hazardous substances that may remain in the disposed waste. Currently, hazardous wastes must often be stabilized and solidified in order to enter a landfill and many hazardous wastes undergo different treatments in order to stabilize and dispose of them.
Many hazardous wastes can be recycled into new products. Examples might include lead-acid batteries or electronic circuit boards where the heavy metals these types of ashes go though the proper treatment, they could bind to other pollutants and convert them into easier-to- dispose solids, or they could be used as pavement filling. Such treatments reduce the level of threat of harmful chemicals, like fly and bottom ash, while also recycling the safe product.
Another commonly used treatment is cement based solidification and stabilization. Cement is used because it can treat a range of hazardous wastes by improving physical characteristics and decreasing the toxicity and transmission of contaminants. The cement produced is categorized into 5 different divisions, depending on its strength and components. This process of converting sludge into cement might include the addition of pH adjustment agents, phosphates, or sulfur reagents to reduce the settling or curing time, increase the compressive strength, or reduce the leach ability of contaminants.
Incineration, destruction and waste-to-energy
A HW may be “destroyed” for example by incinerating it at a high temperature. Flammable wastes can sometimes be burned as energy sources. For example many cement kilns burn HWs like used oils or solvents. Today incineration treatments not only reduce the amount of hazardous waste, but also they also generate energy throughout the gases released in the process. It is known that this particular waste treatment releases toxic gases produced by the combustion of byproduct or other materials and this can affect the environment. However, current technology has developed more efficient incinerator units that control these emissions to a point that this treatment is considered a more beneficial option. There are different types of incinerators and they vary depending on the characteristics of the waste. Starved air incineration is another method used to treat hazardous wastes. Just like in common incineration, burning occurs, however controlling the amount of oxygen allowed proves to be significant to reduce the amount of harmful byproducts produced. Starved Air Incineration is an improvement of the traditional incinerators in terms of air pollution. Using this technology it is possible to control the combustion rate of the waste and therefore reduce the air pollutants produced in the process.
Hazardous waste landfill (sequestering, isolation, etc.)
A HW may be sequestered in a HW landfill or permanent disposal facility. “In terms of hazardous waste, a landfill is defined as a disposal facility or part of a facility where hazardous waste is placed or on land and which is not a pile, a land treatment facility, a surface impoundment, an underground injection well, a salt dome formation, a salt bed formation, an underground mine, a cave, or a corrective action management unit (40 CFR 260.10).”
Some hazardous waste types may be eliminated using pyrolysis in an ultra high temperature electrical arc, in inert conditions to avoid combustion. This treatment method may be preferable to high temperature incineration in some circumstances such as in the destruction of concentrated organic waste types, including PCBs, pesticides and other persistent organic pollutants.