When people say “hazardous waste,” most would imagine tanks or vats filled with slimy, dangerous-looking substances, but this is not always the case. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines hazardous waste as any type of waste that is harmful to both humans or the environment. This can be any waste (in solid, liquid, or any other state) that is toxic, flammable, corrosive, and reactive.
The flammable types of waste include liquids with flash points, solids that can combust spontaneously, compressed gases, and oxidizers. Corrosive substances eat into containers that are used for their storage, while reactive ones are unstable and can form toxic byproducts when mixed with water.
That said, professional hazardous waste disposal, management, collection, and storage is vital for your property, whether you’re a business, a community, or a private residential property owner. The disposal of your waste is the crucial element in its management to ensure that it won’t have adverse effects on human and animal health, as well as the environment. Here are the most common methods used to dispose of hazardous waste.
The oldest and most common form of waste disposal is landfill or dumpsites. Through this method, waste is collected and then simply thrown to a dumping site.
What happens to the waste next ultimately depends on the operators or local laws that regulate dumpsites. For non-hazardous waste, most landfills must simply fit within as small of an area as possible and should be compacted in volume. Landfills must then be covered in soil or any other material. These landfills will either be sorted accordingly or will be compacted to make room for more waste.
Landfills for Hazardous Waste
Landfills designed for hazardous wastes are excavated or engineered, so unlike regular landfills that pile upwards, hazardous waste landfills are meant to be in the ground. These are only reserved for non-liquid hazardous wastes.
Landfills are lined with a double-layered non-porous material, such as HDPE or clay, to avert the leaching of waste into the ground. These units are designed to minimize the amount of harmful waste that makes its way to the environment or human contact. Other features it has includes a double liner, a leak protection system, and wind dispersal controls.
Hazardous wastes are continually dumped into this landfill and then covered to prevent rodents and insects from entering. Landfill operators have to work closely in inspecting, monitoring, and maintaining the safety features, since landfills are permanent disposal sites. Thus, maintenance is necessary to keep waste from leaking to the environment. Unfortunately, this disposal method takes a lot of space, since not much is done to reduce the amount of waste already in the landfill.
In terms of human health, hazardous waste landfills pose little threat to human health. These landfills are specially made to trap and harmful substances that can come from hazardous waste. However, should contaminated dust particles escape or a landfill malfunctions and causes a leak, it can be dangerous to humans in close contact with the landfill.
In terms of the environment, landfills are meant to have minimal impact on the environment by locking in hazardous waste. But a leak or exposure to harmful materials could affect wildlife, water, and nature within the surrounding area.
Overall, as long as hazardous waste is kept secure and operators can regularly ensure there are no leaks, it can be a feasible mode of disposal for non-liquid hazardous waste. However, the fact that many stand to be harmed by an accidental leak pushes the question on whether there are better methods of containment.
This is the burning of your hazardous waste into an incombustible residue. Hazardous wastes are placed in enclosed devices and burned. It is generally used in areas where there is minimal space for landfills, as this can drastically reduce the volume of waste.
The waste is first detoxified to reduce the release of toxic gases into the atmosphere. Incineration is an ideal option for waste minimization and detoxification, although its operating expenses are high.
In some states, incineration of hazardous waste is used to produce steam, which drives turbines to generate electric power. This heat is recycled for use in the incinerators; therefore, reducing the cost of waste disposal and energy production. Wastes that have nitrogen, phosphorous, chlorine, polychlorinated biphenyl, carcinogenic substances, and heavy metals are burnt in incinerators with pollution control devices.
Depending on the regulations, incinerators may help decrease the volume of hazardous waste – but at a cost. Incinerators can release toxic metals, dioxins, and gases into the atmosphere, releasing harmful materials for the ozone, humans, or the environment.
Dumping at Sea
In this method, hazardous waste is deposited in the deep sea to minimize its impact on groundwater sources. Some corporations like factories would have direct lines from their manufacturing plants to the water.
In the past, waste was dumped without any prior treatment. This was based on the belief that the high volume of seawater could dilute the hazardous substances in the waste. However, this has proven to have a harmful effect on the water as millions of tons of hazardous wastes are dumped into the oceans every year.
Nowadays, however, hazardous waste is first treated using different methods before dumping it at sea to minimize threats to marine life. This method is currently regulated or even banned by environmental protection agencies around the world to preserve water resources.
Long term, this is the worst solution in terms of protecting humans and environmental health. Aside from overfishing, ocean dumping has become a huge problem in terms of preserving wildlife. As of 1996, ocean dumping is highly regulated, though the problem still persists to this day.
Toxic waste in the oceans includes industrial waste, sludge, and radioactive waste. Around 10 percent of all dredged materials are polluted with heavy (and toxic) metals like cadmium and mercury. When these materials find their way into the oceans, it will directly affect marine wildlife that could die or suffer harmful consequences.
And when these fishes are caught, sold, and cooked for human consumption, they may still be contaminated. This, in turn, can expose humans to the hazardous wastes.
Underground disposal is the ideal and economical choice for radioactive waste. This includes the waste generated from lab experiments, some medical treatments, mining of radioactive ore, and the production of nuclear fuel. Underground hazardous waste disposal is only done in partially active and inactive mines, which meet particular technical and geological criteria.
Improper handling of hazardous waste will put your health at risk and might attract hefty fines from your local council. The above methods of waste disposal are the better options to get rid of the waste safely. The waste disposal company you work with can also train your employees on how to handle the waste before its collection and disposal.
It ultimately depends, according to the EPA, because these types of hazardous waste storage units can vary greatly. It is the EPA’s job to subject these to environmental performance standards and ensure that these are properly designed, operated, and maintained to ensure the protection of humans and the environment.
Which Method of Waste Disposal Works Best for Me?
It ultimately depends on what type of hazardous waste disposal is available in your area. If you’re feeling a little lost, it’s best to consult your local environmental organization or do your own research and find the best way to ensure your business, home, or community is safe from the effects of hazardous waste.
But instead of carelessly throwing your hazardous waste away, go the extra mile and make sure that it is properly disposed to avoid any additional negative effects it will have to the environment.