Types of Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste is any waste that poses a serious threat to human or animal health or the environment. As you would, expect there are nowadays a wide number of industries and processes that produce this kind of waste and all of it has to be disposed of safely.
It could be waste that contains certain chemicals that are harmful to the skin or it may have properties such as the likelihood of exploding that make it dangerous to humans. Each type in this category has its own hazardous waste disposal legislation that both producers and carriers must adhere to.
For businesses it could be paints and solvents, aerosols or cleaning agents and in industry it can be anything from nuclear waste to gases and flammable liquids produced by factory processes. You can also find much of it in your home including fluorescent light tubes and computer monitors which both have a hazardous component.
Hazardous waste is classified according to what danger it poses and there are numerous categories that have a legal requirement to be disposed of properly.
Flammable: Anything that is likely to catch fire such as oil or some decorating products such as paint thinners.
Chemically corrosive: Anything that can corrode or break down metals such as the contents of a battery.
Chemically reactive: The substance could cause a chemical reaction if exposed to another substance (for example, oxygen or water). Chemically reactive substances can explode or produce harmful fumes when in contact with another compound.
Toxic: Harmful to human health when someone is exposed to the substance either through inhalation, ingestion or touch.
Of course, the largest amount of hazardous waste produced is in our industries, particularly ones such as oil and chemical and waste can include water that has been contaminated, ash that is produced from burning and solvents used in production processes.
But there is also plenty of what can be classified as hazardous waste in our homes and offices on a smaller scale.
- Paint and paint solvent
- Cleaning products
- Weed killers
- Computers and other electronic equipment
- Pet care products
- Engine oil
- Transmission oil
- Smoke alarms
- Fluorescent tubes
While there is plenty of regulation for businesses and industry to handle their hazardous waste properly, that relating to household waste is far less demanding or not so stringently enforced.
There are also plenty of other kinds of waste. You may have heard of asbestos which was used in buildings for many years and has been responsible for a great number of health problems. There is clinical waste which can largely be seen as hazardous because of the chance of poisoning or infection.
The problem is that much hazardous waste is not that clear cut. Not all of your TV is considered hazardous but it may well contain dangerous substances such as MBBA (4-methoxybenzylidene-4-butylaniline) and 5CB (4-pentyl-4-cyanobiphenyl). Fluorescent tubes and some light bulbs contain dangerous but small amounts of mercury.
The European Waste Catalogue (EWC) has a range of categories for hazardous waste:
H1 Explosive: substances and preparations which may explode under the effect of flame or which are more sensitive to shocks or friction than dinitrobenzene.
H2 Oxidising: substances and preparations which exhibit highly exothermic reactions when in contact with other substances, particularly flammable substances.
H3A Highly flammable: liquid substances and preparations having a flash point below 21°C (including extremely flammable liquids); substances and preparations which may become hot and finally catch fire in contact with air at ambient temperature without any application of energy; solid substances and preparations which may readily catch fire after brief contact with a source of ignition and which continue to burn or be consumed after removal of the source of ignition; gaseous substances and preparations which are flammable in air at normal pressure; substances and preparations which, in contact with water or damp air, evolve highly flammable gases in dangerous quantities.
H3B Flammable: liquid substances and preparations having a flashpoint equal to or greater than 21°C and less than or equal to 55°C.
H4 Irritant: non-corrosive substances and preparations which, through immediate, prolonged or repeated contact with the skin or mucous membrane, can cause inflammation.
H5 Harmful: substances and preparations which, if they are inhaled or ingested or if they penetrate the skin, may involve limited health risks.
H6 Toxic: substances and preparations (including very toxic substances and preparations) which, if they are inhaled or ingested or if they penetrate the skin, may involve serious, acute or chronic health risks and even death.
H7 Carcinogenic: substances and preparations which, if they are inhaled or ingested or if they penetrate the skin, may induce cancer or increase its incidence.
H8 Corrosive: substances and preparations which may destroy living tissue on contact.
H9 Infectious: substances and preparations containing viable micro-organisms or their toxins which are known or reliably believed to cause disease in man or other living organisms.
H10 Toxic for reproduction: substances and preparations which, if they are inhaled or ingested or if they penetrate the skin, may induce non-hereditary congenital malformations or increase their incidence.
H11 Mutagenic: substances and preparations which, if they are in haled or ingested or if they penetrate the skin, may induce hereditary genetic defects or increase their incidence.
H12 Waste which releases toxic or very toxic gases in contact with water, air or an acid.
H13 Sensitizing: substances and preparations which, if they are inhaled or if they penetrate the skin, are capable of eliciting a reaction of hypersensitisation such that on further exposure to the substance or preparation, characteristic adverse effects are produced.
H14 Ecotoxic: waste which presents or may present immediate or delayed risks for one or more sectors of the environment.
H15 Waste capable by any means, after disposal, of yielding another substance, e.g. a leachate, which possesses any of the characteristics above.
Find out more about hazardous waste management.