Hazardous waste is a waste that poses substantial or potential make it dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, contained gases, or sludge. Hazardous wastes are defined under RCRA in 40 CFR 261 where they are divided into two major categories: characteristic wastes and listed wastes.
They can be the by-products of manufacturing processes or simply discarded commercial products, like cleaning fluids or pesticides. Characteristic hazardous wastes are materials that are known or tested to exhibit one or more of the following four hazardous traits:
- Ignitable: A waste that is flammable (has a flash point under 140 degrees Fahrenheit) such as solvents, paints or cleaning products.
- Corrosive: Wastes that are acids or alkaline that can burn human tissue or corrode metal.
- Reactive: A broad range of wastes that are unstable, explosive or can create toxic fumes.
- Toxic: Wastes that contain certain hazardous chemicals above regulatory thresholds. Of the thousands of toxic chemicals in commerce, EPA has listed only 40 as having toxic characteristics.
Listed hazardous wastes are materials specifically listed by regulatory authorities as a hazardous waste which are from non-specific sources, specific sources, or discarded chemical products.The requirements of RCRA apply to all the companies that generate hazardous waste as well as those companies that store or dispose of hazardous waste in the United States. Many types of businesses generate hazardous waste. For example, dry cleaners, automobile repair shops, hospitals, exterminators, and photo processing centers may all generate hazardous waste. Some hazardous waste generators are larger companies such as chemical manufacturers, electroplatingcompanies, and oil refineries.
These wastes may be found in different physical states such as gaseous, liquids, or solids. A hazardous waste is a special type of waste because it cannot be disposed of by common means like other by-products of our everyday lives. Depending on the physical state of the waste, treatment and solidification processes might be required.
Worldwide, The United Nations Environmental Programme(UNEP) estimated that more than 400 million tons of hazardous wastes are produced universally each year, mostly by industrialized countries (schmit, 1999). About 1- percent of this total is shipped across international boundaries, with the majority of the transfers occurring between countries in the Organization for the Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) (Krueger, 1999). Some of the reasons for industrialized countries to ship the hazardous waste to industrializing countries for disposal are the rising cost of disposing hazardous waste in the home country.
Household hazardous waste
Household hazardous waste is the discarded, unused, or leftover portion of household products containing toxic chemicals. These wastes CANNOT be disposed of in regular garbage. Any product which is labeled WARNING, CAUTION, POISONOUS, TOXIC, FLAMMABLE, CORROSIVE, REACTIVE or EXPLOSIVE should be considered hazardous. You can’t treat hazardous wastes like other kinds of garbage. For example, buried wastes can filter down through the soil and contaminate groundwater. Plumbing systems can be damaged when corrosive chemicals are put down the drain. Burning hazardous wastes simply distributes them over a larger area and releases them into the air. Pouring hazardous liquids on the ground can poison soil, plants and water (1).
Some examples of hazardous wastes you may find around your house include:
If you do find these products around your home, there are proper ways to dispose of them. It is important to remember that bottles and containers that may be empty should still be disposed of in a safe manner because of residue that remains in the container. The easiest and perhaps best way to deal with household hazardous wastes is through reducing and recycling. It is best to try and reduce the number of hazardous chemicals you have around your house at one time. It is also best to recycle as much as possible by giving leftovers to friends or community organizations. There are many less toxic alternatives to the hazardous materials you may have around the house; please see the links below for some of these alternatives.
Many communities have organized household hazardous waste collection events where these materials are collected and disposed of by local authorities free of charge. Check with your local waste management facility, fire department, or county extension office for more information.