Hazardous Waste

Hazardous or Special Waste is an important part of the waste stream.  College campuses generate several types of these wastes that need to be disposed of properly.  Some of these wastes are illegal to put in a landfill and are often regulated for proper disposal.

Examples of these wastes include: chemicals (including lab and cleaning chemicals, pesticides, photography studio emulsions), biohazardous and nuclear waste, items containing mercury (including bulbs, thermostats and switches), car batteries, antifreeze, lead foil, electronics among other items.  To dispose of these properly often requires research into laws and contractors/organizations that can legally dispose of these items. 

At the University of Oregon and on most campuses, there is a Campus Environmental Health and Safety Department.  This department, works in conjunction with the Campus Zero Waste Program to assure that items going into recycling and the landfill, are not hazardous or special waste.  On other campuses, the Recycling Program is being charged with handling this waste.  Be sure that your campus is in compliance with local, state and national laws in managing these wastes.

Additionally, campus procurement officials can help set up contracts for recycling and disposal of various materials.  Universal waste is not always recyclable but proper disposal of "special wastes" is important in reducing toxins in landfills.  Campuses work with local hazardous material contractors to dispose of toxic wastes.  Perform reference checks on contractors and require certificates of disposal and track amount of waste generated and note whether material is recycled or disposed as hazardous waste.

Many of campuses are placed in the high-volume generator category for chemical and hazardous waste.  Thankfully hazardous waste recovery programs are becoming available for some of these wastes.  Find out how the safety (or campus environmental health office) is managing these chemicals and hazardous materials.  The safety (or campus environmental health) office should have records on what chemicals are produced and where.  Some of these chemicals are probably being recycled.  Even if the recycling program doesn't handle these materials, the program should be aware of how to handle these materials and should be tracking recycled materials along with other campus recyclables.

Often the campus safety or environmental health office, has an inventory of what's produced on campus.  Typically, departments contact these offices for pick-up on items that need disposal.  Materials are collected according to hazardous material handling laws which include storage regulations.  Encourage campus departments to buy what they need as over purchasing can create expensive disposal practices. 

The EPA claims that regulations have streamlined hazardous waste management standards for the federal universal wastes (batteries, pesticides, thermostats, and fluorescent tubes or lamps).  The regulations govern the collection and management of these widely generated wastes.  This facilitates environmentally sound collection and increases the proper recycling or treatment of the universal wastes mentioned above.      

Identifying hazardous and special wastes on a college campus is imperative to meet local, state and national laws while reducing toxic waste going into the landfill and thus our precious environment.  Work with your campus environmental health and safety department to be aware of what the department does and how the campus recycling effort can assist through identifying these wastes, communicating to the safety office about the location and condition of the waste and learning proper procedure in managing these materials as program staff is the front line on these issues.

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