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Lab Pack Disposal 101: Schools and Universities

January 29, 2015

What is a Lab Pack?

A ‘lab pack’—also referred to as an ‘over-pack’—in short, is an accumulation of small amounts of different listed hazardous chemicals safely re-packaged in an approved lab pack disposal container, usually a steel or fiber 55-gallon drum. The purpose of a lab pack is to facilitate the chemicals’ proper disposal under federal regulation. The amounts of these chemicals (usually less than ten gallons each) may be minute compared to other generated hazardous wastes, but they are no less dangerous.

The lab pack disposal process involves first identifying, categorizing, and segregating each chemical, solvent, acid, or base, re-packaging them, then depositing the packaged chemicals into a drum that is no larger than 110 gallons in size. An absorbent substance, such as vermiculite, is then added to the filled container.

If a current drum of already-packed chemicals is leaking or damaged, it will need to be ‘over-packed’ in a larger drum. Finally, when the containers of chemical wastes have been secured, they are correctly labeled, marked, and readied for transport.

Why Do Schools Need Lab Packing?

Many organizations and companies, including hospitals, manufacturing facilities, dry cleaners, the automotive industry—and, of course, academic research laboratories—have a need for lab decommissioning, but this is an especially vital concern for the educational sector.

lab pack disposal for schools and universities

Chemistry labs in high schools, community colleges, and universities contain many toxic, corrosive, flammable, reactive, and poisonous chemicals that are used for demonstrations in classes during the academic term. But these chemicals must be disposed of at the end of each semester or school year. Lab packing is the not only the safest way to do this, but also the only fully-compliant method of removing hundreds of various lab chemicals at once.

Lab Pack Disposal Concerns: Local, State, and Federal Regulation

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its Resource Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA) and Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) program, along with attendant state and local environmental agencies have stringent regulations on lab pack chemicals.

For instance, it is illegal to dump hazardous chemicals down the drain or throw them out in the trash. Government rules also forbid lab pack chemicals from being combined without the oversight of a licensed chemist, as this could lead to a volatile eruption—not to mention—result in a much pricier disposal fee. Additionally, some states may require schools to report all lab pack chemicals that are destined for disposal.

Not only do the EPA and similar state organizations have strict rules on lab decommissioning and disposal, but the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), also have their own set of requirements for the safe handling, transportation, and treatment of lab pack chemicals.

Aside from the legal imperative of proper chemical waste disposal, there are also real world anxieties associated with storing out-of-date, contaminated, leaking, or partially-used chemicals for long periods of time, as explosions are an all-too-real possibility for some acidic chemicals, usually through aging or reaction.

How to Dispose of Your School’s Lab Chemicals in a Complaint Manner

Being mindful of the stringent regulation on small-volume chemical disposal, it would be wise to consult a federally-licensed treatment, storage, and disposal facility (TSDF) or a RCRA-approved hazardous waste disposal company that can handle your school lab waste removal in accordance with the law.

But when it comes time to choose the the right disposal company to properly handle your lap packs, you may want to have some questions ready before picking up the phone.

Choosing the Right Lab Waste Disposal Company

EPA-compliance, correct certification, and up-to-date regulatory knowledge are the musts to look for in a prospective company to handle your lab packs. But be sure also to ask whether the hazardous waste removal company has the required training, experience, skilled chemists, detailed cleanup crews, and paperwork necessary for lab decommissioning.

Additionally, it may be shrewd to inquire as to whether the company offers a ‘paper pack’ service, which is the process of having a knowledgable off-site chemist do all the legwork of the chemical inventory before disposal. Not only can this service drastically reduce the time needed to fulfill the lab packing procedure by the hazardous materials (HAZMAT) specialists, but it can also significantly cut down on associated labor costs.

Even if you end up choosing a different company altogether for the actual lab waste disposal, a paper pack conducted in advance will still retain the same cost-saving value on your end.

By making sure you choose a lab waste disposal company which adheres to these criteria, you can ensure your laboratory chemicals will be picked up on a routine schedule at the end of each semester or school year, packed according to the EPA’s rules, and safely disposed of—at the best possible price.

This article is the 1st installment of a four-part series on chemical lab packing in academic facilities. If you would like more information on lab decommissioning in an educational setting, please refer to our other articles:

Lab Pack Disposal 102: Regulation and Safety – What Can Go Wrong?

Lab Pack Disposal 103: Choosing the Best Lab Pack Company

Lab Pack Disposal 104: Should Your University Opt-In To Subpart K?

Need Help? Call us today at 800-936-2311 to speak with an expert about cost-effective, fully-compliant school chemical waste disposal solutions tailored to best suit your needs. Or, if you prefer, click here to email us.

Photo credit: The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga via compfight

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