Understanding the Difference Between Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Waste, and their Unique Disposal Methods
November 4, 2018


Many companies will not dispose of or transport hazardous materials. Knowing the difference between these materials and the non-hazardous waste is essential, so you are able to properly separate the two from each other and find the right disposal method. Hazardous waste is defined as any agent or item that is potentially harmful to humans, animals, or the environment. The harm can come from the agent itself, or through interaction with other factors.


Definition of Hazardous Waste

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) defines a hazardous material as any chemical or substance that poses a health or physical threat. These threats include:

  • Toxic agents
  • Carcinogens
  • Corrosives
  • Agents that can damage skin, eyes, lungs, mucous membranes
  • Chemicals that are explosive, flammable, combustible, pyrophoric, oxidizers, reactive or unstable, reactive to water
  • Any chemical while under normal use will release vapors, fumes, gases, mist, smoke, or dust that causes a threat to humans, animals or the environment

The EPA agrees with this list and additionally adds chemicals that pose a threat when spilled, leaked pumped, poured, emptied, discharged, injected, escape, dumped, disposed, or leached into the environment to plants, animals or humans. You can find a complete list set up by the EPA of more than 350 hazardous and extremely hazardous materials that must be disposed of according to federal laws and regulations.


What are Solid Wastes?

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has developed a process to define and identify specific substances that are considered hazardous. There are a series of questions for you to answer that will help with your identification process for determining if your waste is hazardous or not. The first question is whether it is a solid waste or not. Solid wastes will not all be physically solid; they can include semi-solids, liquids, and gaseous materials.

Solid wastes fall into classifications according to their source. Sources include household, industrial, and biomedical waste. Household and municipal wastes are commonly in the same group and are produced from commercial and residential complexes. They include demolition debris, waste found on the streets and sanitation



Is the Waste Excluded from Regulation?

The second question to answer in the identification process is whether or not your waste is excluded from regulation, or if it is a hazardous waste according to the EPA. Materials cannot be hazardous if they do not first meet the solid waste criteria; therefore, if your waste is not a solid waste, it is excluded from regulation. There is a list put out by the EPA to check if your waste is excluded.

Additionally, there are solid wastes; the EPA excludes from being handled as hazardous wastes. These materials technically meet the requirements or contain characteristics that would generally classify them as hazardous but are excluded from the regulations of being disposed of in the manner of hazardous wastes. The list of these exclusions can be found on the Code of Federal Regulations list.


Is the Waste Listed or Characterized as a Hazardous Waste?

The third question to answer in the identification process is whether or not your material meets all the characterizations of a hazardous waste material. There are specific properties such as toxicity, ignitability, and reactivity that must be contained in the product under EPA guidelines to be handled as a hazardous waste.

There are four lists; the P, U, F, and K located in the Code of Federal Regulations which identifies hazardous wastes. The K and F lists will tell you which wastes are found in common manufacturing and industrial industries. The F list contains more of the wastes generated from different business types and are known as non-specific. These products can include:

  • Petroleum wastewater treatment sludge
  • Metal finishing and electroplating waste
  • Dioxin-bearing wastes
  • Wood preserve waste
  • Spent solvents
  • Chlorinated hydrocarbons

The K list includes products from more specific industries. There are thirteen different categories for this list, and your waste must match one of the detailed K list items. The industries that would qualify for List K wastes are:

  • Producing Coke through coal process
  • Petroleum refining
  • Lead processing
  • Ink formulation
  • Wood preserves
  • Pesticides
  • Veterinary pharmaceuticals
  • Organic chemicals
  • Inorganic pigment
  • Explosives
  • Aluminum production
  • Production of steel and iron
  • Inorganic chemicals

The P and U lists include waste considered pure and commercial grade formulations of hazardous waste. These contain chemicals being disposed of that have not been used and are found in the commercial form. The P list has all the disposed of chemicals that are either one-hundred percent pure or are a sole active ingredient in the form of a chemical. The complete lists can be found on the Code of Federal Regulations.

Is the Waste De-Listed?

The fourth question to ask is whether or not your material has been de-listed. According to the RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), some wastes have been ‘delisted’ from the hazardous waste lists. Some facilities can petition to exclude their waste from the list of hazardous materials. This petition process is only possible on ‘listed’ wastes and not ‘characteristic’ wastes.

A ‘Listed Waste’ is one that has been added to the hazardous waste list because of how it is manufactured. This defines wastes with dangerous properties due to the wastes generated during their production process. A ‘Characteristic Waste’ contains properties such as reactivity toxicity, or ignitability and therefore cannot be de-listed as they are too dangerous.


Characteristic Wastes- Ignitability

A waste characterized as ignitability includes ignitable compressed gases and oxidizers. The characterization also includes liquids with flash points below sixty degrees Celsius, and non-liquids capable of causing a fire under specific conditions. The Code of Federal Regulations lists more information on determining ignitability.


Characteristic Wastes- Reactivity

A waste characterized as reactivity includes materials that are unstable under normal conditions. This condition may result in emitting toxic gases or reactions to water. Reactivity also pertains to those materials which are capable of exploding or detonating under normal circumstances. There are no tests for determining reactivity, but there are more characteristics listed on the Code of Federal Regulations.


Characteristic Wastes- Corrosivity

A waste characterized as corrosivity includes materials with a pH less than or equal to 2, or liquids with a pH greater or equal to 12.5 which are capable of corroding steel. The Code of Federal Regulations further defines the materials on this list.


Characteristic Wastes- Toxicity

A waste characterized as toxicity is determined by their ability to be harmful when absorbed or ingested. They are potentially dangerous in how they can leach from waste and then pollute groundwater. More information and a list can be found on The Code of Federal Regulations.


Non-Hazardous Waste

Most of the trash generated inside your home is not hazardous. This trash includes wood or metal furniture, food waste, and the trimmings from shrubs or trees.  The EPA created a non-hazardous hierarchy as a means of recognizing a waste management approach. This approach lists a strategy from the most to least environmentally preferred materials. It focuses on reusing, reducing, and recycling as a means to manage your garbage. Non-hazardous waste incineration is one process to dispose of most household trash items. By using waste incineraton, items can be converted to heat, flue gas, and ash.  Non-hazardous wastes are the materials not designated as hazardous. These products include glass, wood, plastics, chemicals, metals, and other industrially generated materials. While they are labeled as not dangerous, if not properly disposed of, they can create significant risks to both human health and the environment.

Household waste is on the rise as the consumer market continues to pack and sell food products and other household products in plastics, aluminum, and tin cans. These non-biodegradable products cause serious harm to the environment. Landfills have to be well managed and appropriately lined in order to prevent emissions from these wastes from contaminating groundwater and soil.


There are different time amounts it takes for our household waste to degenerate. Organic wastes such as leftover foods, fruits, vegetables, and other food items take from one to two weeks. Paper products take from ten to thirty days, while our cotton cloth items can take from two to five months. Wood items take ten to fifteen years, and aluminum, tin, and other metals will not degenerate for one-hundred to five-hundred years.


Hazardous Waste Disposal

The RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) creates a framework for the correct management of hazardous waste disposal. The law mandated by Congress provided the EPA with the authority to develop the RCRA program. The EPA policies and the RCRA laws are often used interchangeably, but they are the guidelines to follow when disposing of a hazardous waste material.

The disposal of these materials raises concerns on how they will impact the environment and economy. A productive solution to these concerns is to blend them into fuel. Hazardous waste fuel blending reduces the risk of damaging your environment. The process involves recycling waste into fuel which in turns reduces the fossil-fuel consumption affecting our environment. Benefits from using the waste fuel blending include:

  • An affordable alternative to incineration
  • Conserving the earth’s natural resources as it can replace oil, coal, and other fossil fuels by turning waste to energy
  • Reduces the cradle-to-grave liability

Waste fuel blending uses the best available technology to generate usable fuel from your hazardous waste materials. Other options for hazardous waste disposal include:

  • Liquifying your solids- this process involves pulverizing items such as still bottoms to re-liquify them and create BTU values to be used for combustion
  •  Incineration- this is a thermal treatment that destroys hazardous and toxic materials through a high-temperature rotary kiln
  • Minimization
  • Wastewater treatment- treats effluents such as water, oil, bases, coolants, and acids through mechanical or chemical treatments
  • Macro and micro encapsulation- this process involves sealing your waste debris to prevent hazardous constituents from escaping into the environment
  • Oxidation/filtration/precipitation- chemical precipitation forms a separable solid substance from your solution to convert it into a soluble composition
  • Neutralization

Hazardous waste disposal is a carefully government regulated process, and the methods used are scrutinized by regulating agencies. When disposing of your wastes, you want to ensure you are using a fully licensed and recognized hazardous waste disposal service.


Transportation and Disposal of Hazardous Waste

The government strictly regulates the transportation of waste determined to be hazardous. The regulations vary from state to state, so you want to be sure the transportation of your materials is being properly handled. Check that the carrier you use is in full authority with the ICC and United States Transportation Ministry in Canada. Your carrier should have liability insurance to cover environment discharge protection as well as comprehensive and automotive liability coverage to meet all Federal environmental guidelines.

No matter which type of waste you are generating, you want to use a service to dispose of the material in an environmentally safe and sound manner.


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