Prudent Practices: How Businesses Can Properly Dispose of Hazardous Materials

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Many industries and workplaces handle hazardous waste—some more than others. These liquids, solids, or gaseous materials have the potential to harm the environment and human health at large. They can be thrown into landfills or otherwise disposed of improperly, creating organizational inefficiencies at your business and mistakes that could cost a great deal. Failure to comply with federal and other regulations can result in substantial fines or lawsuits.

Here are some helpful tips on how companies and operators can best comply with federal waste management regulations and adequately dispose of hazardous materials:

Identifying Hazardous Waste and Understanding the Requirements

The first important step in the process is to identify all the hazardous material your business creates.

There are common items for workplaces, such as:

  • Paints and thinners
  • Cleaning fluids
  • Gas
  • Oil and oil filters
  • Batteries
  • Pesticides
  • Any materials that:
    • Burns or itches the skin upon contact
    • Dissolves metal, wood, paper, or clothing
    • Includes warning labels like “flammable,” “danger,” “hazardous,” or “poisonous”

There may be even more complex items that you may not know whether they are harmful to you, your employees, and the planet on which we live. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a thorough, four-step process for identifying hazardous waste and familiarizing yourself with current federal regulations.

Storage and Transportation of Waste

After identifying hazardous waste, ensure that these items are properly stored in a fashion that prevents the release of harmful substances. The containers or storage areas should be appropriately labeled and inaccessible to unauthorized individuals. Regular and thorough inspections will help reveal the smallest of issues and prevent these areas from turning into a costly problem later.

Delivery and Disposal of Waste

The EPA has established three sets of rules, characterized in part 261 of title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), to dispose of hazardous waste. The area for a particular enterprise or company depends upon how much waste is generated in that workplace. Large quantity generators (LQGs) and small quantity generators (SQGs) have specific guidelines to adhere to. At the same time, some companies may be conditionally exempt small quantity generators (CESQGs) that don’t have to comply with hazardous waste management regulations.

Based on workflow and changes in production, your waste generator status can shift categories on a month-to-month basis. The more waste you generate, the more complex the processes become, especially if you’re dealing with multiple company locations as environmental regulations vary significantly by city, county, state, and federal levels.

It’s crucial to know how much your company generates and how to maintain and dispose of it. Hazardous materials cannot be poured down sewage or sink drains. There are licensed and permitted waste management companies that can collect such materials from businesses and adequately dispose of them.

Parting Tips

A well-trained workforce is pivotal when maintaining a working environment. At the bare minimum, companies should make sure all employees are familiar with proper waste handling and emergency procedures as it relates to their responsibilities during normal operations.

Any hazardous waste generator requires a contingency plan. This plan establishes the actions that must be immediately implemented during an emergency. It should be organized and up to date to help minimize hazards to human health and the environment from fires or the unplanned release of hazardous waste.

Knowing which toxic, reactive, ignitable, and/or corrosive waste materials your workplace creates is critical. Suppose your company or facility cannot accurately or confidently recognize or handle your waste materials. In that case, you need to work with a proper waste management company that can help identify what’s hazardous and address them with turnkey solutions that comply with your operations and federal regulations—which, ultimately, will save your company both time and money.

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