How we handle all our waste is one of the biggest challenges we face in the modern world. Whether it’s recycling paper and plastic bottles, or something more specialist like construction and demolition waste, we are constantly developing processes to store, transport and dispose of the rubbish we produce. One waste management area that needs careful consideration, of course, is hazardous waste.
You might be surprised to learn that many of the products we have in the home and in our offices have some hazardous component.
Fluorescent lights, for example, contain small amounts of mercury, a toxic metal that can cause damage to body organs such as the kidneys, brain and lungs. Although the level of this dangerous metal is pretty small, clearly it needs to be disposed of with some care rather than thrown onto landfill where it can seep into the environment and cause damage.
Even products such as computers and TVs have their share of hazardous components which means they too have to be handled with care. Other types of hazardous waste can include paints and solvents, engine oil and even some pet care products. The nature of the hazard varies considerably across different products. Some waste products are flammable, others potential irritants, some poisonous. Simply sending these things straight to landfill is not an option and most waste disposal services now have processes in place to make sure the rubbish we throw away is made safe either by recycling or, as a last resort, incineration.
Domestic Hazardous Waste
There is a slight difference in the UK with how domestic and commercial waste is handled. At home we have recycling bins and central waste management facilities that we can use – many councils have processes in place for dealing with things like fluorescent tubes and batteries. For example, they separate out the electronic waste and send it to specialist handling services. The same can be said for products such as paint tins and solvents that we use every day.
While home owners have no real legal requirement to separate out their own hazardous waste, it is good for the environment if we all show a duty of care when it comes to products like paint tins, solvents and aerosols and ensure that we dispose of them carefully.
Commercial Hazardous Waste
There is a much greater legal responsibility for businesses and industries to make sure they dispose of their hazardous waste safely. Everything has to have a clear audit trail and it’s the responsibility of a business to choose the right, licenced service for their needs. That includes having the right storage facilities for the waste in the first place to make sure that it is kept safe and does not pose a threat to people passing by.
Disposing of Hazardous Waste
Nullifying the impact of hazardous waste usually involves either specialist equipment that can separate out harmful components or a thermal process that destroys the risk element of a particular product. Waste products such as oil and industrial sludge can be sent for thermal desorption which can extract valuable products for reuse. There are a range of physical, chemical and biological processes including aerobic digestion that can be used to process hazardous waste so that it delivers a usable by-product.
The final solution for hazardous waste is usually incineration at high temperatures. This process is increasingly used also to provide heat and energy such as electricity that can be used for local supply or fed into the National Grid.
Find out more about hazardous waste management here.