Hazardous Waste Management: 12 Things You Need to Know
Hazardous Wate Management

In 1976, the federal government passed The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), establishing a framework for how businesses and industries should handle hazardous waste. 

Since then, hazardous waste has become a part of everyday functions in the workplace. Likewise, more restrictions and expectations for hazardous waste management are also in place. 

Understanding the operations connected to recognizing, managing, and disposing of hazardous waste is critically important for the environment and human safety

Read on to learn more about understanding how to manage hazardous waste. 

What Is Hazardous Waste Management?

Let’s start with a good working understanding of what defines hazardous waste. When a type of waste poses a risk or danger that could have a harmful effect, it’s classified as hazardous waste. 

Hazardous waste could impact the environment, but it can also impact human health. 

Recognizing all the places that can generate hazardous waste is key to managing and disposing of it. This might include:

  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Batteries
  • Hazardous pharmaceutical waste
  • Laboratory waste

It’s essential to recognize that hazardous waste can present itself in many forms, from liquids, solids, gases, and sludges.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been vital in the process of identifying substances known to be hazardous and management of those substances, including disposal. 

1. Hazardous Waste Standards 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been key in creating specific standards related to hazardous waste in the realm of industry, health, and construction.

OSHA has created 29 OSHA-approved State Plans that are published and available for the groups impacted. These include standards and enforcement regulations that must be in place for the handling and disposal of hazardous waste.

The OSHA standards get broken into several sub-categories, including:

  •  Exit Routes and Emergency Planning, which includes emergency action plans
  • Hazardous Materials, including operations and an emergency response plan
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • General Environmental Controls, which includes categories like sanitation and permits for confined spaces
  •  Fire Protection
  •  Toxic and Hazardous Substances

A key component in all OSHA standards is the protection and safety of workers who might be handling or have exposure to hazardous materials. 

2. Recognizing Hazardous Waste

Sometimes hazardous waste is easily identifiable just because of the operation or process it came from. Other times, identifying if a material is hazardous can be quite complex. 

The EPA has developed a process to help identify hazardous waste. The process involves answering a series of questions that help guide the identity of the material in question. 

The question process goes something like this:

  1. Is the material solid waste? 
  2. Is the material one that’s excluded from the general definition of solid waste or hazardous waste?
  3. Does the material have characteristics of hazardous waste?
  4. Is it listed already as hazardous waste?
  5. Check to see if the waste is delisted. 

Using the EPA guidelines and flowchart, you can work to recognize potential hazardous waste. 

3. Evaluating Exposure of Hazardous Waste 

It’s not uncommon to be on a job site and be faced with the possibility of hazardous waste. At an industrial or construction site, it’s important to know what to do when faced with the possibility of hazardous waste. 

OHSA offers many resources to aid in the evaluation of waste. 

One of the best resources available for those in need is the OSHA Occupational Chemical Database. This is a solid source and place to begin your research if you need information on a chemical substance. 

NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM) offers a resource for testing samples and analysis of contaminants. 

4. Control and Prevention of Hazardous Waste 

Anytime there’s the risk of hazardous waste, control of the material is of the utmost importance. If you already know you’ve got a waste with associated dangers, you want to look for other options and control the substance.

The Occupational Chemical Database is a good place to start as a resource.

You can also consider the Transitioning to Safer Chemicals: A Toolkit for Employers and Workers that is available through the OSHA site. The site offers a step-by-step resource for employers and workers. 

This resource helps to provide a resource of information, tools, methods, and guidance on using informed substitution in the workplace.

5. OSHA’s Role in Hazardous Waste 

The EPA defines hazardous waste and presents guidelines on substances and their potential dangers. The EPA will have strict restrictions and guidelines for hazardous waste removal. 

At the same time, OSHA will also have requirements in place when dealing with any type of hazardous material. 

The EPA works to protect the ecology and environment. OSHA works to protect occupational health or workplace health. This is often referred to as industrial hygiene. 

The expectation of industrial hygiene is that the workplace is:

  • Anticipating
  • Recognizing
  • Evaluating
  • Controlling

The role of OSHA is to ensure the workplace is doing each of these things regarding industrial waste to protect any workers. They want to control potential health hazards for workers.

6. Industrial Waste 

Some estimates suggest the US produces as much as 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste each year. In the US, some estimates suggest that only about 30% of industrial waste reaches recycling stations. 

However, the EPA estimates that as much as 75% of the industrial waste produced in the US could be recycled. 

It costs about $30 per ton to recycle trash and industrial waste. It might surprise you to know there’s a whole industry built around selling industrial waste. 

In fact, about $57 billion is made each year in the US by selling industrial waste, often to countries outside of the US. The caveat here is how to ensure this waste is handled safely and don’t negatively impact workers or the environment. 

7. Chemical and Biological Hazards 

When you consider hazardous waste, it’s important to know it can present itself in a variety of forms. 

You might find either chemical or biological hazards. Chemical hazards could be in the form of:

  •  Solids
  • Liquids
  • Gases
  • Mists
  • Dusts
  • Fumes
  • Vapors

Biological wastes often come from medical waste. These might present in the form of:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungi
  • Other living organisms

Of course, how much risk associated with the hazardous waste is directly connected to the amount of waste and the intensity, along with the frequency and duration of exposure.

8. Communication Standards for Hazardous Waste

As an employer, you have an obligation to communicate about the potential for hazardous waste. You must also communicate a written, comprehensive communication program related to handling hazardous waste. 

The plan must include:

  • Who is responsible for the hazardous waste program in your workplace
  • A hazard inventory is a list of hazardous chemicals that can be found in the workplace
  • Requirements for labels 
  • Other forms of warning
  • Employee training information

Don’t let the idea of this plan intimidate you. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It does, however, need to reflect what happens in your workplace. 

9. Management Practices

With an industrial focus on sustainability, it’s necessary for management practices to reflect that focus. 

Sustainability will be about focusing on the minimization of waste. A positive by-product of this will be lowering risks to the environment and human health.

With a strong focus on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives, management practices could reduce the inherent risks associated with hazardous waste by choosing cleaner and more sustainable options.

10. Disposal 

Any business or industry that deals with hazardous waste or the potential for it must also be prepared to manage the disposal of it. 

Of course, we know that hazardous waste can be:

  • Flammable
  • Corrosive
  • Reactive
  • Toxic

Because of this, hazardous waste disposal is complex and must be well planned by any group that deals with hazardous waste in any form. 

It’s imperative that workers focus on safety through training programs and work expectations.

11. Creating Objectives, Targets, and Programs

An important part of the ESG standards program is to measure what you’re doing. This means that for waste management, you create objectives for management, set targets, and create programs for measurement. 

The key to these types of programs is measuring the success you have in toxic material management. 

First, you must establish your objectives. What goals do you hope to reach with the management of hazardous materials?

Targets set goal posts that allow you to measure your progress towards the goals. 

Finally, the programs are how you will work from the objectives to meet each target. 

12. Workplace Responsibility for Hazardous Waste Management

All workplaces have a responsibility to manage hazardous waste. Whether they know the hazards exist or come upon them over the course of the work, they need to be safely handled and disposed of. 

Managers have an obligation to manage, but they also have a responsibility to train and prepare staff for handling hazardous materials.

What You Need to Know About Hazardous Waste

The importance of hazardous waste management can’t be understated. Both the EPA and OSHA have regulations and support to manage, handle, identify, and dispose of hazardous material.

If you need help managing your data sheets for hazardous materials, we can help. Contact us to learn about our competitive pricing for a product that can help you do what you need with hazardous materials.