What It Is
Hazardous waste is waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to our health or the environment. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, gases, or sludges. They include commercial products, such as cleaning fluids or pesticides, and some by-products of manufacturing processes. Hazardous waste should not be dumped into a landfill like other waste. It needs to be disposed of responsibly to prevent hazards to human and environmental health.
The EPA has a list of hazardous wastes available on its website.
Why It Matters
Responsible disposal of hazardous materials isn’t just the domain of heavy manufacturing. Professional offices, too, must pay attention to disposal of janitorial supplies, building materials, and e-waste, which can harm human and environmental health.
Improper hazardous waste disposal can harm the health of employees and local residents, as well as animals and plant life. It can contaminate soil and the local water supply and pollute the air. It can lead to a decrease in property value and expose your business to fines and/or lawsuits.
- Step One: Reduce hazardous waste production.
- Step Two: Sign up for local hazardous waste collection.
- Step Three: Dispose of waste in the trash, not in the sink, toilet, or storm drain.
Step One: Reduce hazardous waste production.
Before figuring out how to properly dispose of hazardous waste, see if you can make less of it. Try to think, “How do I prevent hazardous waste?” instead of “How do I get rid of it?”
The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services offers the following tips to help businesses reduce hazardous waste production:
- Substitute hazardous materials with non-hazardous materials.
- Rethink your manufacturing or operating practices. Is there a less harmful way to produce your product or service?
- Train employees in proper manufacturing and handling processes.
- Improve existing equipment.
- Replace old equipment with more efficient equipment.
- Segregate waste to avoid cross-contamination.
Recycling and donating can also help you reduce hazardous waste. Consider if another company could use your hazardous materials before you toss them. This might include paint, pesticides, and cleaning products. This may not work in some cases– no company would have use for radioactive sludge, for instance– but see if recycling and donating will work for your business. If someone else can use the hazardous materials, then they won’t go to waste.
Click here for more tips from the EPA on minimizing waste.
Step Two: Sign up for hazardous collection.
If you’ve tried to reduce waste production but still have hazardous waste, see if your town, city, or county offers hazardous waste collection. Collection will make waste disposal easier for you and ensure that your business follows disposal regulations.
Step Three: Dispose of waste in the trash.
Proper disposal of hazardous waste depends on the type of waste. For example, liquid hazardous waste is often disposed of in underground injection wells. Solid hazardous waste goes to places like landfills, waste piles, and land treatment units.
However, some general rules apply to hazardous waste disposal:
- Dispose of hazardous waste in the trash rather than dumping it on the ground, in the toilet, or down the drain.
- In certain states and counties, it is illegal to throw e-waste (e.g., old laptops, monitor, computer towers) in the trash.
For more specific disposal advice, visit this link on the EPA website to identify what types of hazardous waste your company produces. Then you can navigate to the federal disposal regulations that apply to you. Also see this user-friendly reference list for more help.
- Step One: Partner with WasteWise.
- Step Two: Develop a hazardous waste policy.
- Step Three: Train employees on the policy and procedures.
Step One: Partner with WasteWise.
Businesses join the EPA’s WasteWise Program to change their behavior and track their internal waste reduction efforts. All US businesses, nonprofits, and local governments can join, and members receive the following:
- Free technical assistance
- Access to web-based data management tracking tool, called Re-TRAC
- Opportunities to receive WasteWise Awards that recognize outstanding achievements
- Public recognition in WasteWise publications, case studies, and meetings
- Reduced purchasing and waste disposal costs
- Outreach and educational materials
Joining WasteWise may help you with the next two steps.
Step Two: Develop a hazardous waste policy.
Create a policy that clearly defines how your business reduces, handles, and disposes of hazardous waste. Putting your policy in writing will help you manage hazardous waste disposal and train employees on proper procedures. You can reference this hazardous waste policy from Rutgers University for guidance.
Step Three: Train employees.
Finally, train employees on your policy and procedures regarding hazardous waste disposal. The policy will be of little use if employees don’t understand and embrace it. You can supplement their training with outreach and educational materials from WasteWise.
Gehl Company, an agricultural equipment manufacturer in Wisconsin, stripped paint from rejected parts using a hot sodium hydroxide bath. This created a large amount of hazardous paint waste.
The company now strips paint with a plastic media blasting cabinet. The cabinet fires “small plastic particles at a painted surface,” stripping the paint without damaging the rest of the product. “The paint chips and spent blast media [are] non-hazardous solid wastes” which Gehl sends to a landfill.
The cabinet eliminates 19,000 pounds of hazardous waste annually and saves the company $32,000 in disposal costs each year.
Resources for More Information
- Click here to learn about the EPA’s WasteWise Program.
- Click here for more information on land disposal from the EPA.
- The EPA shares a number of helpful links about hazardous waste management and regulations.
- For more information on underground injection wells, click here.
Reducing or recycling your hazardous materials is best. However, if you must dispose of hazardous waste, sign up for hazardous waste collection. If you want to dispose of the waste, yourself, check the EPA website to identify your waste and how to properly dispose of it.
 “Wastes – Hazardous Waste,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/, accessed 5 August 2013.
 “Environmental Fact Sheet,” New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, 2008, http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/hw/documents/hw-8.pdf, accessed 5 August 2013.
 “About WasteWise,” US Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/partnerships/wastewise/about.htm, accessed 5 August 2013.
 “Pollution Prevention Case Study: Gehl Company,” Bureau of Cooperative Environmental Assistance Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, http://infohouse.p2ric.org/ref/04/03138.htm, accessed 5 August 2013.