Hazardous Waste Treatment Methods: Protecting People and the Planet
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Toxic chemicals and compounds are unlike other types of trash and require special hazardous waste treatment methods for management and removal. Anything but the safest approach could result in dire environmental and human health effects.
In the U.S., officials remove hazardous waste strategically to avoid leeching and harming people. Here are some of the adverse effects of toxic waste, typical management techniques, and things you can do at home to protect people and the planet.
How Does Hazardous Waste Affect the Environment and Human Health?
When people dispose of hazardous waste incorrectly, it can contaminate the air, water, or soil. As a result, humans, plants, and animal species are more prone to sickness and harm.
Hazardous waste affects the environment and people in the following ways:
- Public health: Can irritate the eyes, nose, or skin, cause respiratory issues, headaches, vomiting, and nausea — and lead to different cancers, genetic problems, organ impairments or physical deformations.
- Water pollution: May contaminate various water bodies, causing them to become unsafe for drinking or recreational use.
- Air pollution: Releases noxious fumes into the atmosphere, which hinders air quality and breathing.
- Soil pollution: Contaminates the ground, making agriculture or grazing unsafe for humans and animals.
- Biodiversity loss: Exacerbates ecosystem collapse and species decline — today’s extinction rates are 1,000–10,000 higher than the natural extinction rate.
Even exposure to low levels of chemicals and fumes could hurt you in the long run.
The Most Common Hazardous Waste Treatment Methods
An explosion of industrial and urban developments has led to an influx of hazardous wastewater throughout the years. Sadly, much of these toxic compounds leach into the environment by rain or stormwater runoff.
Engineers and waste management officials have the difficult task of developing safe and effective hazardous waste treatment methods, utilizing the latest technologies and expertise. Of course, the type of waste — such as solid, chemical, or biological — ultimately determines the best management approach. Here are some of the most common ways experts treat and eliminate toxic effluents.
Most people think of landfilling when disposing of trash. Regarding hazardous waste, landfilling requires burying harmful materials deep underground so it does not pollute the environment. However, landfills are overflowing and are only a temporary solution.
Annual municipal solid waste accumulation has increased from 88.1 million tons in 1960 to 292.4 million tons in 2018. Globally, landfills are responsible for 11% of methane emissions, which will likely increase to about 70% in 2050.
The incineration process involves combusting organic compounds, pesticides, and tainted metals at extremely high temperatures to degrade waste.
In many instances, combustion flue gases are transported as steam at 850° Celsius — 1,562° Fahrenheit — for energy recovery. For example, the steam might get sent to the district electricity grid or be utilized onsite for operating the combustion plant.
Chemical, Biological, and Physical Treatment
Hazardous waste treatment methods encompass the removal of chemical, biological, or physical compounds deemed highly dangerous for humans and the planet.
- Chemical treatment: Uses stabilizing modes to treat toxic waste through precipitation, ion neutralization, and oxidation to make chemicals less volatile.
- Biological treatment: Utilizes bioremediation to reduce organic hazardous wastes — wastewater, food, or agricultural effluents — into nontoxic material.
- Physical treatment: Uses filtration, flotation, sedimentation and evaporation techniques to treat solid hazardous wastes, making certain toxic materials easier to transport and dispose of.
Hazardous waste recycling entails transforming toxic materials into reusable products. This process is usually done through reclamation, reuse, and repurposing. Reclamation utilizes solvents to recover reusable compounds for reuse. However, reuse and repurposing are somewhat different.
Reuse refers to reusing a product for the same purpose, while repurposed materials are applicable to other purposes.
For example, some companies reuse part of an electric vehicle’s (EV) lithium-ion battery to power another EV. Other parties are exploring repurposing used EV batteries as solar panel electricity storage. Old tires may also get repurposed as asphalt or playground ground covering.
Hazardous Waste Management at Home: 7 Tips
You can do your part in properly disposing of hazardous waste by making sounder buying decisions and ensuring safer product use. Here are seven tips for using, storing, and removing hazardous materials at home.
1. Reduce Hazardous Waste Generation
Obviously, the best way to prevent human and environmental consequences of toxic waste is to limit your use of hazardous materials entirely. Rather than purchasing commercial cleaning supplies, why not make nontoxic but equally effective solutions with everyday household ingredients?
2. Store Hazardous Products Safely
Always ensure hazardous products are safely stored in their original packaging in an upright position. Containers should be tightly sealed and kept in a dry, cool place. Also, prevent products from getting into the wrong hands — such as young children — by keeping them higher up on a shelf.
3. Avoid Mixing Hazardous Materials
Never mix two hazardous materials unless the packaging says otherwise. Some toxic compounds create harmful chemical or explosive reactions that can harm you, your household, and the environment.
4. Clean Spills Immediately
If a hazardous product has fallen and spilled, clean it up immediately. However, always wear protective gear, such as gloves and goggles, to prevent exposure. Remember, some chemicals could cause skin irritations or dangerous fumes, making breathing difficult.
5. Use Products Only as Intended
Always read product labels before using any potentially toxic material or compound. That means you should never use more than the recommended amount of a product at once or for any reason beyond its original purpose.
6. Ensure Proper Disposal
You might wonder where you can drop off hazardous waste where you live. You can usually find out if there are nearby collection sites by visiting your town or county website. Remember that some locations designate specific drop-off days, so be sure to inquire before making the drive.
7. Transport Toxic Waste Carefully
When transporting hazardous waste to a designated collection site, always ensure it is secure in the trunk or truck bed. The last thing you want is for the product to leak while driving. Likewise, never situate incompatible materials next to each other.
Hazardous Waste Management Is a Step Beyond Typical Treatments
Hazardous waste treatment methods are more stringent than your typical garbage bag full of last night’s leftovers. The potential environmental and public health effects are too critical to treat it any other way. Always take special precautions when handling and removing toxic waste. Your well-being could depend on it.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.