Every year, the world generates approximately 400 million tons of hazardous waste. That means each person, on average, generates about 132 pounds.
Unfortunately, a considerable chunk of that waste doesn’t undergo proper disposal and management. Instead, it gets dumped or burned illegally or even shipped to other countries.
One reason for the ever-growing pile of hazardous waste is the lack of awareness as to what it is. For instance, many people aren’t aware that everyday items can be a source of such waste.
So, what is hazardous waste, then, and where exactly does it come from? Why should you even care in the first place?
We’ll answer all those questions and more in this guide, so be sure to read on.
What Is Hazardous Waste?
Hazardous waste is any discarded substance capable of harming humans and the environment. They can be cancerous, corrosive, flammable, infectious, radioactive, or toxic. These are the primary distinctions they have over non-hazardous waste.
Hazardous waste can be in the form of gases, liquids, solids, or a combination of these three states of matter. An example of the latter is sludge, made up of both liquids and solids. Sludge can be a byproduct of sewage treatment and industrial or refining processes.
Where Does Hazardous Waste Come From?
Hazardous waste can come from chemical, coal, metal, and petroleum manufacturing. Waste and water disposal and treatment methods also generate these dangerous wastes.
While those are the top sources of hazardous waste, regular people also generate them. According to experts, household hazardous waste (HHW) comprises about 1% of municipal waste.
What Are Examples of Hazardous Waste?
Used and discarded chemicals make up a huge portion of hazardous waste. After all, thousands of these substances are available for commercial use. In Europe alone, they produce more than 80,000 chemicals each year.
Some examples of chemical waste are pesticides, solvents, and automotive fluids. Pharmaceutical manufacturing as well discarded drugs are also chemical wastes. The disinfectants you use at home and in your swimming pool also belong to this list.
Speaking of homes, the removal of asbestos and mold also generates hazardous waste. According to this blog post, the same goes for demolition projects.
Human waste, in itself, is also harmful, as it’s full of pathogens. Pathogens are microorganisms that cause diseases, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
While most human waste goes down the plumbing, not all things you use to clean yourself up should. Wipes, for instance, should never go down the toilet. The same goes for feminine napkins, diapers, and cotton balls or swabs.
Electronic waste (e-waste) is another example of hazardous waste. Everyone who uses technology generates this type of waste. They can take the form of defective or obsolete electronic devices and equipment.
Why Should You Care About Hazardous Waste?
For starters, hazardous waste can cause violent illnesses and even death. For example, potent acids and alkaline substances can destroy living tissue on contact. On the other hand, arsenic, asbestos, benzene, lead, and radon can all cause cancer.
Then, there are the infectious wastes, such as used bandages, razors, and needles. They can spread diseases to other people with just a single touch. At the very least, they can injure other people or animals.
Hazardous waste can also be ignitable or explosive, such as spent aerosol cans. Under the right conditions, they can explode or start a fire and emit dangerous gases into the air.
The worst part is that mismanaged hazardous waste can harm animals and plants, too. For instance, they can cause mutations in exposed animals and plants. They can also damage the cells and even kill organisms upon contact.
All that should be enough to make you care more about managing your hazardous waste.
Besides, there are federal, state, and local laws that surround hazardous waste management. Failure to follow these rules is an environmental law violation, a white-collar crime. People and companies charged with such crimes face hefty fines and jail time.
What Can You Do About Your Hazardous Waste Then?
First and foremost, never mix HHW with the non-hazardous waste you generate at home. Instead, you should always separate batteries, cleaners, paints, pesticides, and other solvents. You should also take out the battery of old, unwanted, or useless electronics.
Next, call the local waste service or health department for details on HHW collection. Many communities offer year-round services for HHW materials on certain days. So, make sure you ask your local agencies when these schedules are.
If your community doesn’t offer those services, see if there’s a waste facility near your place. Make sure the facility has a valid permit to collect, store, or process HHW.
If you have loads of e-waste at home, you may be able to make some money by recycling them. For example, you may be able to sell their scrap parts to electronic and metal recyclers.
It’s even better for your wallet, health, and the environment if you reduce your HHW. This involves reducing your purchase and use of products with hazardous contents. For example, instead of buying such items, consider switching to eco-friendly products.
You can also substitute commercial chemicals with less dangerous substances. For instance, rather than buying glass cleaners, you can use vinegar mixed with some water. Another hack is to use baking soda for rugs instead of using chemical deodorizers.
Be Responsible: Practice Proper Hazardous Waste Disposal
There you have it, the complete guide that answers the question, “what is hazardous waste?” Now, you know that it’s a type of waste that can endanger the planet and all the living things in it. That’s why as early as now, you should pay more attention to how much HHW you generate.
From there, consider following our tips for proper disposal and even waste reduction.
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