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Understanding Proper Hazardous Waste Management

Angie Cole

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Hazardous waste can come in various forms, and it’s not always easy to manage them, much less regulate their disposal. However, the need for proper hazardous waste management has become more and more apparent over the past couple of years, as the imminent threat of global warming has made its presence felt more clearly. But what exactly are we dealing with when it comes to hazardous waste?

What is hazardous waste?
Waste that poses a threat to the environment and to human health is considered as hazardous, and they commonly exhibit either one or all of these traits: toxicity, ignitability, corrosivity, and reactivity. They can also be infectious, such as those coming from healthcare facilities, or radioactive. Hazardous waste can come in solid, liquid, sludge, and even gaseous states.

What should be done with them?
In an ideal world, all waste products could be recycled and utilized in some other industry. However, the reality is that the world is hardly an ideal setting, and recycling normally isn’t the end point of hazardous waste. Depending on how hazardous waste was created (either by physical, chemical, thermal, or even biological means), treatment and disposal may also vary. For example, certain organic wastes like those from the petroleum industry can be applied with biological treatment, such as landfarming, in which hazardous waste is mixed carefully with surface soil on a designated and suitable area of land. Microbes can be added to metabolize the waste, thus causing it to stabilize. On the other hand, physical treatment involves solidifying, concentrating, or reducing the volume of hazardous waste. 

Who is responsible for hazardous waste management?
Hazardous waste management should be the responsibility of everyone. A combined effort is needed from everyone involved in producing, handling, and disposing of the hazardous waste. Each institution that deals with such waste – like healthcare facilities and industrial companies – should follow the standard regulations on handling hazardous waste, and have a set protocol in place. Employees and workers who find themselves at risk for exposure to such waste, or handle them directly, should be trained on how to properly deal with them. The 40-hour HAZWOPER training should be required for such employees. 

Whether you work in a facility that creates these hazardous waste, or are part of the cleanup crew to ensure their containment, it is important to understand the impact that such waste has on our lives.  Hazardous waste is inevitable in today’s society, but with proper management, we can ensure that its impact on environmental and human health is contained.


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