Hazardous Waste Reduction in 6 Steps
Hazardous waste generation is just par for the course for companies in certain industries. Whether as a byproduct in a manufacturing process or in the biohazard disposables of the healthcare field, generating, treating, and disposing of regulated waste is merely a fact of doing business.
But how much waste a company produces depends on many factors, some of which—luckily—are controllable. This means waste streams can be minimized to a varying extent. The benefits of reducing the amount of hazardous waste you generate not only include significantly cutting down on your overhead and removal costs, but it also lessens worker exposure to these dangerous substances, reduces potential liabilities, and enables your business to better comply with regulations.
Drastic reductions in total monthly waste streams could even mean a step down in your Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) generator status. For example, a small quantity generator (SQG) might become a conditionally exempt small quantity generator (CESQG), thereby greatly decreasing the level of federal rules and regulatory oversight that the generator would be subject to.
In fact, statutes of the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA) state that both small and large quantity generators are required to make a good faith effort to retrench the volume of hazardous waste they generate to an amount that is economically feasible for the particular generator.
Under RCRA, large quantity generators (LQG)—or, generators that produce more than 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste a month—must have an official waste minimization plan set in place, which is meant to help curb the volume and toxicity of their waste streams. This formal plan must also include the treatment, storage, and disposal methods the generator plans to use.
So not only is waste reduction a cost-effective, sustainable, and generally more convenient and stress-free solution, it is also required by federal law. Fortunately, there are many methods available for all generators to aid in hazardous waste reduction.
Here are six methods we’ve come up with to help you reduce your company’s overall waste:
Conduct an informal audit of your current waste streams.
An audit or assessment of your procedures as they currently stand can help you understand which areas in your processes could use improvement. The audit should include the quantities, sources, and monthly expenses incurred in the generation and disposal of your waste.
Develop and implement a waste minimization plan.
If you are a small quantity generator (SQG) or a large quantity generator (LQG), the EPA mandates that at least the minimum RCRA points are followed in your waste minimization plan. Please note, however, that state-by-state regulation may vary on this issue.
For SQGs, the RCRA minimum means putting forth a true effort to cut down on waste generation in ways are suitable to the company, and to also build and maintain a working, efficient waste management system.
For LQGs, as stated earlier, the RCRA minimum means drafting a formal waste minimization plan before waste generation even begins. This plan must include the expected efforts of the business to reduce the overall volume and toxicity of generated waste, waste-minimizing treatment, storage, or disposal methods, and contingencies for future spills or leaks.
Revamp your accumulation areas so that specific wastes are segregated from contact with other hazardous or non-hazardous wastes.
By segregating your stored waste, you are saving money merely by not allowing your hazardous wastes to mix with other wastes (which would violate EPA regulations, in some cases) and also not incurring heftier disposal fees. For instance, if a tiny amount of hazardous waste material were to contaminate a much larger volume of non-hazardous waste, the aggregate of both the hazardous and non-hazardous waste would considered hazardous.
To make sure your wastes don’t become more voluminous than they need to, be sure that containers in your on-site hazardous waste storage areas are dated, tracked, and clearly labeled (or otherwise identified), and that necessary hazardous waste cleanup tools or spill kits are always available and on-hand in your facility.
Invest in worker training for the handling of hazardous materials, or HAZMAT courses.
Even the best plans aren’t one-hundred-percent effective without full team cooperation. This can mean your vendors and your supply chain, but most importantly, it means your employees and colleagues. Keeping everyone up-to-date in the latest HAZMAT procedures by attending handling and safety courses is the best way to ensure that your waste reduction plans are easily followed.
And though your minimization plan may have a seal of approval from upper management, it cannot have full staying power without the support of knowledgeable workers who deal with waste on a daily basis. That’s why it’s wise to spend a little to invest in regulatory, minimization, and waste technology classes to gain a more well-versed and informed group of hazardous waste workers and other employees (such as waste management team leaders) who will be able to carry out any plan your company agrees on.
Organize a program for recyclable wastes.
Used solvents, certain metals, and universal wastes, such as batteries, mercury-containing equipment, fluorescent light bulbs, and pesticides can all be recycled, lessening the bulk load of hazardous waste that must be disposed of by an off-site facility. If your company handles any of these materials, a recycling program in which these wastes are reclaimed can be of benefit to reducing your gross waste weight, as recycled wastes are not considered hazardous by the EPA and do not count toward your monthly hazardous waste limits.
Set goals and monitor your progress.
Once you have completed the previous five steps, set expected goals or timelines for the amount of waste you would like to see reduced by a certain date, based on the projections of the above-listed steps. And when your company has reached the number in your set goal—meaning the measures to become more cost-efficient, sustainable, and complaint in your waste generation have been successful—monitor and track your progress going forward to ensure you are able to keep the profitability of waste minimization permanent.
Reducing the amount of hazardous waste your company generates can be seen as a good investment, maybe a little painful to at first, but pays dividends almost immediately. We’re here to help: whether by assisting you start your minimization program or in providing more information about hazardous waste reduction, give call us today at 800-936-2311 to speak with an expert. Or, if you prefer, click here to email us.