Businesses and consumers looking searching for more sustainable waste management solutions are always looking for ways to find value in what would otherwise be discarded. When it comes to the recycling of hazardous waste, particular care must be taken to assure that the benefits of recycling don’t come at the expense of environmental protection.
Under the authority Congress conferred to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), USEPAhas developed hazardous waste recycling regulations that promote the reuse and reclamation of useful materials in a safe manner.
According to the USEPA, in 2011 Hazardous Waste Recycling included 1.5 million tons of hazardous wastes generated by Large Quantity Generators (LQGs), Small Quantity Generators (SQGs), and Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs). Most recycling came from recovery of metals, solvents, or other forms of recovery. That’s almost 3 trillion pounds of wastes materials that otherwise would have been sent to disposal or could have been mishandled!
The National Biennial RCRA Hazardous Waste Report (based on 2011 Data, the most recent published) reported an additional 2,215,241 tons of RCRA hazardous waste from LQGs was managed for energy recovery in fuels blending or using other energy recovery technology. Altogether, that’s almost 3,700,000 tons (7.4 trillion pounds) of waste materials converted into something of value.
A breakdown of the volumes recycled using the various management methods listed above is as follows:
- Energy Recovery: 1,563,267 tons
- Metals Recovery: 1,039,554 tons
- Fuels Blending: 651,974 tons
- Solvents Recovery: 255,219 tons
- Other Recovery: 184,533 tons
- Total: 3,694,547 tons
Some kinds of hazardous waste are widely generated in the community by residents, commercial establishments, as well as industry, including the following:
- Mercury Containing Equipment
- Bulbs (fluorescent lamps)
The complexity of the hazardous waste regulations successfully managed by large institutions are particularly daunting for the ordinary consumer or small business. US EPA responded by creating the Universal Waste regulations, which seek to balance practicality and convenience with an assurance that health and the environment will be protected. These streamlined regulations ease the burden on retail stores and others that wish to collect these wastes. They have the added benefit of encouraging recycling of the components in these materials, paving the way for municipal and commercial programs to recycle rather than landfill these materials. The result – more volume is recycled, and less waste goes for disposal. Under the universal waste rule, collection of these materials is simplified, but the consumer can be assured that the facilities ultimately recycling or disposing of their products will be subject to all of the controls applicable to hazardous wastes.
In summary, the answer to the question “Are any Hazardous Wastes Recyclable?” is “yes”. Almost 7.4 trillion pounds of otherwise hazardous waste were recycled in 2011 to prove it. The USEPA and the states that implement its programs have developed programs to promote the reuse and recycling of hazardous waste while at the same time assuring that their processing and the disposal of any residuals will be safe and protective. This plan is working.
If you would like more information on the recycling of hazardous waste, please visit the USEPA’s website at http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/wastetypes/universal/ to find useful facts and information. Be sure to check with your state for any additional requirements at http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/wyl/stateprograms.htm.