Non-Hazardous vs. Hazardous Waste: What’s the Difference?

Proper removal and disposal of waste are critical parts of protecting the world we live in. With more and more waste annually entering the environment and harming it, knowing what waste your facility produces and how to dispose of it is essential. To help you form a better baseline understanding of waste in general, here are the differences between non-hazardous and hazardous waste.

What Is the Definition of Hazardous Waste?

Waste, in general, is defined as things such as objects or products that are no longer desirable or useful. In particular, hazardous waste is waste that can cause damage or harm to human health or the environment. Paper, paint, and leather manufacturing are some of the most common industries that produce hazardous waste, along with the automotive and aviation industries.

The most common example of hazardous waste that comes to mind for most is the runoff that occurs from insecticides and pesticides. This is because it is incredibly easy for rain and irrigation systems to wash off these chemicals, causing them to seep into the ground and sometimes into our very own drinking supply.

Because there are so many different forms of hazardous waste and all vary in levels of danger, knowledge of best practices regarding use, handling, and disposal are non-negotiables. Without this knowledge, you may be putting yourself and your workers at risk.

How Is Hazardous Waste Identified?

In order to identify whether the waste your facility produces is hazardous, the waste must fall into one or more categories according to EPA classification: corrosivity, flammability, toxicity, and reactivity.

Corrosive waste can be acidic or basic in nature and is defined by its ability to eat through materials such as metal or flesh. Flammable waste is an object or material with the ability or properties that allow it to catch fire easily. Toxic waste is waste that causes damage to a living organism when absorbed into the bloodstream by ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin. Lastly, waste is considered reactive if it can readily and violently react, such as exploding.

Waste is also determined hazardous if it falls under one of four lists: the F, K, U, and P lists. The F list identifies hazardous waste as industrial waste from non-specific sources such as wastewater. The K list is hazardous waste that comes from specific industries, such as explosive manufacturing. The P and U lists identify hazardous waste that is pure—such as arsenic—or commercial grade—such as benzene.

How Is Hazardous Waste Disposed Of?

Because hazardous waste comes in so many different shapes and forms, there are many different ways to dispose of it. However, before disposal, you must determine whether these materials can be reclaimed, reused, or burned to recover energy. If not, only then can the waste be considered for disposal. Hazardous waste can be disposed of through biological, physical, thermal, and chemical treatment, depending on EPA regulations.

Biological treatment can be used to give back to the earth, such as landfarming, which is when the waste is mixed with the surface soil along with microbes to metabolize the waste. Chemical treatment can be the process of ion exchange, precipitation, reduction, or oxidation. Thermal treatment would be incineration, and physical treatment is typically evaporation, filtration, or sedimentation.

If you’re unsure which categories your facility falls into, you can also have waste sent off to laboratories to help you form a better plan of action for disposal.

What Is the Definition of Non-Hazardous Waste?

Non-hazardous waste is essentially the opposite of what was listed above and can generally be easy to identify. In simple terms, it is waste that causes no harm to human health or the environment. However, while these wastes generally don’t cause immediate harm, they’re still regulated, just not as strictly as hazardous wastes are. While non-hazardous waste is generally not considered immediately toxic, that doesn’t mean that it won’t pose any issues for human health or the environment. For example, improper disposal of certain non-hazardous waste, such as tire scraps, can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes and pests.

The most common examples of non-hazardous waste are industrial waste, medical waste, construction debris, and agricultural waste. It is important to note that even if your industry falls into the non-hazardous category, that doesn’t mean your facility doesn’t produce some form of hazardous waste. As mentioned, medical facilities produce a large amount of non-hazardous waste, but they also produce hazardous waste—mostly biological.

Usually, non-hazardous waste is the waste that you produce every day in your very own home that goes into your garbage can. These are materials such as paper, food, scraps, yard trimmings, clothing, and more. This is what’s known as municipal waste, which is a term that you may have heard of before. Ultimately, if it doesn’t pose a serious risk to your health or harm the delicate balance of the environment, it is considered non-hazardous waste.

How Is Non-Hazardous Waste Disposed Of?

Even though non-hazardous waste usually isn’t a danger, proper disposal is still important, and you can bring these forms of waste to a facility or have a contractor come pick it up. Depending on the type of material, many states have waste management programs that will recycle the waste that facilities produce. There are also contractors you can hire to come to your facility and handle and dispose of the waste for you. For example, used cooking oil is a very common form of non-hazardous waste, usually produced by restaurants and bakeries. For this, there are vacuum trucks that will come directly to your facility, clean out your grease trap, and recycle the material for you.

If this is not an option for you, you can take non-hazardous waste to a disposal site yourself. Many people take their electronic waste to waste transfer stations—just in case there is a corrosive material of some kind. However, before disposing of waste in your everyday disposal bins, consider whether they can go into the recycling or whether they can be reused. A quick check as to where your facility’s waste is supposed to go can help prevent more waste from harming our planet.

Now that you know the differences between non-hazardous and hazardous waste, it’s time for you to move on to the next stage—disposal. Luckily, Providence Environmental is here to help. We’re a waste disposal company based in South Carolina, committed to protecting the environment and providing excellent service to our customers. To learn more, give us a call today!

Non-Hazardous vs. Hazardous Waste: What’s the Difference?
Share this post with others...