Want to know how most industrial waste streams are disposed of? Well, in order to do so, we must first define what an industrial waste is. Industrial waste are produced by industrial activity and include any material rendered useless during a manufacturing, medical, or construction and demolition (C&D) process. Toxic or hazardous wastes, industrial solid wastes, and even some types of municipal solid waste are considered sub-categories of industrial waste, but for the purposes of discussions here, we will only consider waste deemed non- hazardous by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the regulations the USEPA utilizes to manage wastes in the U.S.
Landfill disposal is far and away the most utilized method for the disposal of industrial waste. If you like numbers, then here is a bunch of them, and please realize these numbers are all approximations that have been rounded off.
- Of the 621.5 million tons of non-hazardous waste that were handled by licensed American non-hazardous waste management facilities in 2011, approximately 193 million tons were classified as industrial/C&D waste.
- 144 million tons of those industrial/C&D waste were disposed of, and 140 million of those tons were processed for landfill disposal at licensed industrial waste or C&D waste landfill sites. (Source: Waste Business Journal’s Waste Market Overview & Outlook 2012).
That’s over 97%! Keep in mind many of these sites are bioreactor landfills – special permitted Subtitle D landfills or landfill cells that inject liquid and air into the waste contained within in a controlled fashion to accelerate the decomposition and stabilization of the waste. These bioreactors produce landfill gases such as methane at an earlier stage in the landfill’s life and at a higher rate than traditional landfills. These gases can be and are often times used to produce energy or are used in energy recovery projects.
Other Industrial Waste Disposal Methods
This disposal option burns waste under controlled conditions. Different incinerators are permitted for different kinds of waste, and many burn non-hazardous industrial waste in solid, liquid, and gaseous physical states. Please realize incineration technologies also exist that generate electricity or heat that can be used to produce energy, and are called Waste-to-Energy facilities (WtE). Waste-to-Energy is not considered disposal of waste materials, but instead is classified as energy recovery. Additionally, many medical waste are disposed of via incineration technology at specialized incineration facilities that are permitted to dispose of that type of waste.
Deep Well Injection
Deep well injection is a waste disposal technology used to place liquid waste into geological formations located thousands of feet below the surface and have virtually no potential to allow migration of contaminants into potential potable water aquifers. On average nationally, 90% of wastewaters that are disposed of at commercial disposal facilities are done so using deep well injection disposal technology. Class I injection wells are designed and permitted for use for industrial and municipal waste.
Land farms use soil microbes and sunlight to treat waste on the soil surface or by incorporating them into the upper layers of soils to degrade, transform, or immobilize contaminants. These disposal units can generally accept liquid, solids, and high solid sludge materials containing high BOD, high COD, and high organics containing waste for biological treatment. Typical waste streams disposed of at land farms include contaminated soils, wastewaters and wastewater treatment solids, oils, oily waste waters, tank and sump cleanout waste, and off-spec commercial products.