If you live in a developed nation, chances are companies in your country dispose of quite literally tons of hazardous waste products every day.
Sadly, much of this waste is not dealt with properly, and can come back to haunt us. Anything from a wadded-up bubble gum wrapper to radioactive waste, if left unchecked, can leave a huge and damaging footprint on our ecosystems.
In order to understand exactly the impact hazardous waste disposal has on our environment, let’s take a look at some types of hazardous waste, the effects they have in both the short and long term, and what your options are for safe disposal.
There are several types of hazardous waste that industries, medical facilities and even schools can produce. The thing to keep in mind is that not all waste is hazardous, but that doesn’t necessarily mean non-hazardous waste can do no harm.
Then what is hazardous waste? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines hazardous waste as a “waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment.”
Here are a few of the most common types of hazardous waste you may have in your facility.
The simplest definition of a chemical is a substance that cannot be broken down into simpler parts without changing it into something else through a reaction. A chemical is a pure substance, and can be a gas, liquid or solid.
It may either consist of an element, or of a molecule or compound that is uniform in nature. Chemicals can occur naturally or we can manufacture them artificially in laboratory settings.
Chemicals have varying effects, as the government of Canada points out: “Many chemicals are used to improve the quality of our lives and most are not harmful to the environment or human health. However, some chemicals have the potential to cause harm, in certain amounts, and should only be used when the potential risks are appropriately managed.”
Chemical waste can be found in a variety of settings, from manufacturing facilities to high school labs and hospitals. Proper disposal is incredibly important because of the risk chemical waste posts to not only the environment, but to lab workers, students and residents who live in the surrounding areas of lab facilities as well.
Medical waste can come from a variety of sources, from testing facilities to labs, pharmacies, dental offices and hospitals. Each year, hospitals alone account for 5.9 million tons of medical waste in the United States.
While 85% of the waste health care facilities generate is considered non hazardous, that does not necessarily mean its disposal is not regulated. This is where particular aspects of medical waste disposal are important … primarily the medical waste disposal containers you choose and the vendor you work with to ensure all regulations are met.
Regulated wastes include everything from items contaminated by blood and body fluids to sharps, disinfectants, radioactive waste and pressurized devices.
Electronic waste is a growing problem worldwide. In fact, nearly 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was generated in 2019. While e-waste accounts for 70% of toxic waste in the United States, it only accounts for 2% of trash found in landfills.
Toxic materials from electronic waste can significantly harm both the environment and human health. That’s because electronics can contain chemicals and substances like mercury, arsenic, cadmium and lead. Lead, in particular, can cause neurological damage.
Just about every business has e-waste, whether it’s from replacing computers that contain beryllium oxide after a system-wide update, changing out lightbulbs that contain mercury or replacing batteries that contain sulfur.
Hazardous waste has enormous impacts on the environment. Air, soil, water and wildlife health are all affected by the amounts of hazardous waste generated every day by business and industry.
Regulations exist to help us dispose of it properly, but contamination still occurs all the time. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recorded voluntary disclosure and certified corrections of violations at more than 1,900 facilities in 2019. This was a 20% increase over the number of cases recorded in 2018.
There were more than $471 million in combined federal administrative and judicial civil penalties and criminal fines levied that year as well, with 170 criminal cases opened, according to the EPA.
The main danger in the short term is water pollution. The chemicals that are disposed of into our waterways make streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers unsafe to use for drinking or agricultural purposes.
Animals and plants sicken and die when they drink from these waters, and human health in areas downstream may be affected.
In 2014, a Freedom Industries facility near Charleston, WV, released crude 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol into the Elk River. The river, which is a tributary of the Kenawha River, occurred upstream from a West Virginia American Water intake, treatment and distribution center. Nearly 300,000 residents were without access to clean water for nearly a week.
However, it is the long-term results that truly terrify.
Long-term effects include signs of mutation in animals, cancer and other diseases in humans, trash in our waterways and green spaces, and the destruction of many natural resources. Populations of insects such as bees, which are crucial to preserving the fertility of plant life, are dying off faster than they can repopulate due to human pollution.
Even if spills are quickly contained, the chemicals can seep into soil, interrupting plants’ normal growth processes.
Another long-term impact of hazardous waste is the danger it poses to our water table. Chemicals can soak through soil and enter underground aquifers. What may have been a spill that occurred in a small area can quickly grow to impact an extremely large area. Even more frightening, the true impact of this can go undetected for a long period of time.
Because bodily fluids are another kind of hazardous waste that often gets disposed of improperly, we now have to worry about the spread of human disease as well. Other forms of chemical contamination, such as mercury and lead, pose major human health risks – especially to developing children. They accumulate in tissue, build up over time, and can lead to cancer, seizures, poisoning and death.
Identifying hazardous waste has been simplified by a near-universal standard that categorizes based on how these materials can damage their environment. These qualities include how reactive the substance is to other chemicals in such a way that it could explode or turn into poison gas, its flammability, its toxicity, and how prone it is to corroding other materials.
Luckily, all the RCRA and California Waste codes can be looked up simply and quickly using the free app My RCRA Pal. There is a FREE app that lets you look at all the RCRA and California waste codes. Download it below.
All the RCRA and California Waste codes can be looked up simply and quickly using the free app My RCRA Pal.
However, identifying hazardous waste isn’t always easy. A certified hazardous waste disposal company can help you identify waste through sampling and testing. Quality vendors will also:
Improper disposal of waste of any kind has to be rectified and paid for out of the pocket of the state – and, therefore, the pockets of taxpayers. If we want to avoid this, we must keep supporting government initiatives that offer clear guidelines about waste disposal to citizens.
One way to do this is to ensure your own hazardous waste is handled properly. Not doing so can be costly to not only the environment, but your bottom line. One environmental services company learned this the hard way after it was fined $790,000 after allegedly failing to manage and contain hazardous wastes, among other violations.
While many developed nations, especially in North America, have established organizations to combat the growing negative impact of hazardous waste both on land and in our waters, it is paramount that companies learn the proper steps to handling hazardous waste to minimize the risk of pollution and damage to both individuals and ecosystems alike.
This entails abiding by proper hazardous waste disposal protocols, especially for toxic materials such as blood, medical equipment, and radioactive waste.
Hazardous waste disposal is critically important to the environment and your business operations. Trying to determine how to dispose of your hazardous waste on your own, usually ends up with disastrous results and heavy fines.
Look for a hazardous waste transporter that is both licensed, bonded and has adequate insurance to ensure your company is protected to the fullest possible extent. We serve many cities throughout California including Victorville, Riverside, Palmdale, San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and many more.