How to Dispose of Hazardous Household Waste
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The term “hazardous waste” encompasses precisely what it sounds like — human waste hazardous to health and the environment. Households generate over 2 billion tons of solid waste every year. Of that figure, 1% of all household waste is hazardous. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s 20 million pounds — and every bit of hazardous waste that isn’t properly disposed of can have disastrous short and long-term consequences.
That’s why knowing how to properly dispose of hazardous waste is essential. Here are the best hazardous waste disposal methods.
What Kind Of Products Turn Into Hazardous Waste?
Any household products that can catch fire or explode under certain circumstances, corrode or are toxic are considered hazardous materials. These items can be everyday products you use in your house, but they usually have warning labels indicating their dangerous nature.
Here are some everyday household items that may be considered hazardous:
- Drain cleaners
- Electronic wastes
- Cleaning agents
- Products containing mercury
- Oven cleaners
Disposing Of Hazardous Waste
Disposing of household hazardous waste can be relatively simple. Many states have recycling collection programs that turn hazardous materials into less dangerous materials.
However, some chemicals cannot be recycled due to their volatility. In this case, they have to be destroyed. There are three main methods to dispose of hazardous waste — treatment plants, surface storage and secure landfills.
Treatment plants are the most sanitary way to dispose of hazardous materials. These plants are designed to destroy waste using chemical, biological or thermal methods. Incineration is the most used treatment because it can completely eliminate most waste quickly and efficiently. However, the possibility of air pollution is a significant concern.
Chemical treatments include using mixtures of destructive compounds, such as oxidation and reduction, to break down harmful substances. As with incineration, there is the concern that the chemical treatments will produce toxic by-products.
Some treatment plants use biological methods to dispose of certain organic wastes. One form of biological disposal is called landfarming. This technique mixes waste with soil containing microorganisms to break down harmful substances.
Another process used in treatment plants is physical treatments, such as solidification. This method captures waste in concrete or asphalt mixed with lime and water to form a block of cement that can be used for other purposes.
If hazardous wastes cannot be treated, they go to a surface facility. These include common landfills and waste storage facilities. However, this method of disposal is not ideal because of the negative environmental impact it can have.
On-site waste storage facilities must comply with strict regulations, such as protecting waste piles from wind and erosion so harmful materials don’t return to the environment. The facility uses advanced monitoring and control systems to prevent the generation of leachate — a fluid that percolates through piles of waste and becomes toxic.
Waste storage facilities use an open lagoon system to store hazardous liquid waste. These lagoons must be made with clay soils and membrane liners to ensure harmful chemicals don’t seep back into the ground. These lagoons do not effectively treat waste.
Additionally, many older surface storage facilities fall into disrepair and risk contaminating the surrounding land and water supply. Governments are making an effort to identify and remediate these facilities.
Landfills have a terrible reputation when it comes to hazardous waste disposal. Like surface storage facilities, landfills must adhere to strict regulations when they are being built. One regulation requires at least 10 feet of separation between the storage facility and the underlying bedrock or groundwater table.
Additionally, landfills must have a secure double leachate collection system to prevent leachate from seeping into the soil and groundwater. Landfills are required to have a sophisticated groundwater monitoring system to detect if the groundwater underneath has been contaminated so the leak can be intercepted as quickly as possible.
Liquid waste is disposed of using a method called deep-well injection. This process involves pumping liquid waste into porous rock such as sandstone using high-pressure wells. The liquid waste seeps into the rock and is trapped there. Deep well injection requires no pretreatment of waste and is relatively cheap, but like all storage methods, there is a risk of contamination.
Alternatives To Products Containing Hazardous Chemicals
Using more sustainable products means less hazardous waste. Fortunately, there are many natural replacements for hazardous chemical products. Here are a few examples:
- Vinegar: You can use vinegar as a natural cleaning agent. Mixing vinegar with other compounds, such as vegetable oil or water and lemon juice, can replace most surface cleaners.
- Baking soda: Like vinegar, baking soda mixed with other ingredients can be used as a cleaning agent. Baking soda has numerous uses, including as a deodorizer, surface cleaner and scrubber for bathtubs and toilets.
- Castile soap: Castile soap is a natural soap made from vegetable and plant oil. This makes it non-toxic and biodegradable. It can be used as both a surface cleaner and a bath soap — replacing most of your cleaning products.
- Hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is a safe, non-toxic substance with various uses. It is an excellent alternative to harsh cleaning products such as shower cleaners and stain removers and is much safer to use.
- Borax: Sodium borate, also known as Borax, is a relatively new option that has quickly gained popularity. Borax is a salt of boric acid that can be used as a cleaner and disinfectant when mixed with water. It’s strong enough to clean mold and mildew.
How You Can Help with Hazardous Waste Disposal Methods
In response to the dangers hazardous waste poses to the environment, the EPA has launched a safer choice program. This program provides consumers with a guide for purchasing more sustainable household products.
Most forms of hazardous waste disposal come with risks to the environment. Using the alternatives stated above, you can reduce the number of hazardous products you use. Less hazardous waste means cleaner disposal methods.
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About the author
Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.