If your workplace is a hazardous waste generator, you should know that you are responsible for that waste even after it leaves your facility. That’s why each package of waste in every load picked up by your waste services provider must be clearly marked with your facility’s name and contact information. This makes it easy to identify who is to be held accountable for any harm that waste might cause to the public or the environment.
For this reason, knowing what happens to your waste once it leaves your hands is important. Regulated waste products generally require some form of treatment to render harmless any hazardous chemicals, pathogens or other harmful substances they may contain, so chances are a treatment facility will be the first stop for your waste. Here we’ll outline 5 approved waste treatment methods that may be used to facilitate safe and efficient disposal of your hazardous waste.
Incineration is when hazardous waste is burned in a controlled environment using an incinerator specifically designed for this purpose. This is a good waste treatment technology that applies varying levels of heat depending on the type of waste. Incineration kills even hardy pathogens by breaking them down into harmless organic materials, which vastly reduces the quantity of waste that goes into landfills.
Autoclaving is a method or treatment that uses high levels of heat and pressure to destroy harmful microorganisms in waste products. It can also deactivate many potentially hazardous chemical substances. This method is often used for the treatment of biohazardous medical waste, such as sharps waste, laboratory cultures, soiled bandages, and discarded medical gloves and gowns, for example.
To sterilize waste via autoclaving, waste is placed into an insulated chamber. Air is pumped out of the chamber, then superheated steam is pumped in until it reaches a very high pressure within the chamber. Waste is tested periodically during the process to ensure that hazards are neutralized before waste is removed from the chamber.
Mechanical processing is a term that describes several EPA- approved methods of waste treatment. Often, these methods are a first step in treating waste, used to prepare the waste for more efficient treatment or stabilization via other treatment methods. Among the most commonly used mechanical processing methods are:
Shredders – These units are used to reduce the size of waste products to make other waste treatment methods more reliable, like chemical disinfection, irradiation or microwave treatment, for example.
Filter presses – These machines use pressure to separate solid waste from fluids.
Drum crushers – These machines are used to crush containers of hazardous waste.
Mercury bulb crushers – These are used to safely process fluorescent bulbs.
Chemical disinfection is another approved method of treating some types of hazardous waste. It is a fairly simple process that involves mixing the waste with strong chemical disinfectants to kill or deactivate pathogens contained within it, then rinsing it to remove the chemical residue. To be effective, the waste must be thoroughly saturated by the disinfectant chemicals. This method is most reliable when used for liquid wastes or waste that can be easily shredded to ensure good contact with the chemical solution.
Vitrification is a process that uses heat to melt waste that contains harmful chemicals, then solidify it into a solid, glass-like mass. This stabilizes the materials to make them safe for disposal at appropriate, permitted disposal sites. This method can be used to stabilize volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), dioxins, pollutant metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), among other hazardous substances.
Once your waste has been appropriately treated to reduce the risks it may pose to humans, animals and the environment, disposal or destruction is the next step. Depending upon the specific type of waste involved, it may be transported to a standard landfill, a landfill designated specifically for hazardous wastes, or sent for incineration, among other possibilities. At this point, you should receive documentation for your records – called a certificate of destruction – verifying that your waste has been properly treated and has reached its final disposal point.