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How to Dispose of Chemical Waste and Laboratory Waste

June 19, 2019

Chemical waste is the inevitable byproduct of many laboratory processes, whether from workaday medical tests and procedures or exotic laboratory research and experimentation.

Add to that the approximately 212.50 million annual pounds1 of chemical waste that are secondary to pharmaceutical manufacturing, and you can easily see how chemical waste disposal is of specific concern to the EPA. (1Based on 2016 data.)

Of course, chemical waste disposal is also on the radar of state regulatory agencies, who cast a wary eye toward hazardous waste management altogether—and their regulations are usually in excess of what’s mandated by the EPA.

What’s so different about chemicals?

As we’ve blogged about previously, there are two kinds of hazardous waste according to the EPA: Listed and Characteristic. You can learn more about “Listed” wastes here, as the present conversation will be limited to what’s labeled “Characteristic.” That said:

Characteristic hazardous wastes possess one or more of four noxious “characteristics.” These are corrosivity, ignitability, reactivity, and/or toxicity. And when you think about it, any one chemical could probably ring all four of those bells.

Guidelines for Chemical Waste Handling

  • Use containers that won’t degrade with exposure to sunlight or the chemical itself.
  • Keep all chemical wastes separated. Don’t have untrained staff making ad hoc decisions about which might be compatible with the other.
  • Post chemical abbreviation sheets in conspicuous places so that employees are certain about what’s inside various storage containers.
  • Designate and label storage areas where food, flammables, and other specific substances should not be introduced.
  • Label storage containers with important information, such as when received, opened, tested, etc.
  • Keep an inventory of in-house chemical wastes awaiting hazardous waste disposal.

Also consider: mixing different chemical-waste streams can inadvertently result in a dangerous compound that’s many times more corrosive, ignitable, reactive, and/or toxic than any one of its constituents.

So it’s no wonder that chemical waste gets special attention—and bad press.

Proper handling requires separating chemical wastes

Given the propensity of chemical wastes to compound their noxious characteristics when mixed, the EPA rightly deems it crucial that you keep them separated.

Thereby, you cannot allow individual employees to be making ad hoc decisions about what to do with a random chemical waste when it presents itself. You need a system: the proverbial place for everything and everything in its place.

Once you’ve developed such a system—and ensure everyone’s trained about it—it’s much less likely that expensive mistakes will be made: the kind that might be litigable or even criminal.

Also, when chemical wastes are properly separated and safely stored, your workplace operations will be inherently safer—and less likely to upset the folks at OSHA.

Safe and legal disposal: your ultimate goal

Once your chemical wastes are properly identified, categorized, and separated, you must ensure that they’re transported to the correct category of waste disposal facility. E.g., there are chemical wastes vs. biological wastes vs. corrosive wastes vs. reactive wastes, etc., and different facilities are “permitted” to transport them—and some definitely aren’t.

Hazardous Waste Experts makes it our business to match you (and your hazardous waste) to the transporter and/or disposer that can keep you out of trouble. If you need expert advice, or hazardous waste disposal services, contact us at (800) 936-2311 or email us.

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.