Is hazardous waste biodegradable?

This article will talk about what hazardous waste is? Is it biodegradable? Where does it come from? What are its characteristics? What does research say about hazardous waste? How is it impacting the environment? Its potential to be recycled and its disadvantages.

What is hazardous waste?

A waste is categorized as hazardous if it has the potential to impact the health of living organisms and environment negatively either now or in future. It can be found in different physical states such as:

  • Solids
  • Liquids
  • Gasses

It is labeled as a special type of waste because it cannot be disposed of the way other waste material is disposed of. Depending on the type of hazardous waste the method of its disposal can vary.

Hazardous waste is composed of toxic substances which are generated from industries, agriculture, hospitals and household waste. The hazardous waste can be corrosive, flammable, poisonous, explosive and reactive.

Is hazardous waste biodegradable?

No, hazardous waste is not biodegradable. These wastes pose a potential hazard to living organisms and human health. They are persistent in nature and can be biologically magnified across various food groups. They are lethal and can cause detrimental cumulative impact.

What are different types of hazardous waste?

Hazardous waste can be divided into four main types. When it comes to disposing the hazardous waste, the methodology can vary depending on the type of waste. Because they are extremely harmful to the environment they cannot be easily discarded with the rest of waste. The procedures vary depending on the type of waste which are listed below:

  • Listed wastes: listed waste are further broken down into four different categories which are F-LIST, K-LIST, P-LIST and U-LIST. The F-LIST involves waste which are non-specific source waste and have originated from manufacturing and industrial processes such as different types of solvents used in greasing processes.

These wastes are referred to as non-specific source waste because they can originate from a number of sources in the industry.

The K-LIST waste is known as specific source waste and mainly originates from petroleum industries and pesticides industries. The waste includes chemically treated wastewater and sludge.

The P-LIST and U-LIST waste includes commercial chemical untreated products which are discarded. The waste mainly comes from pharmaceutical industries and pesticides industries.

  • Characteristic waste:

This type of waste does not fill the criteria of listed waste and are categorized on the basis of their characteristics which include: corrosivity, ignitibility, toxicity and reactivity. A waste needs to possess one of these characteristics to be regarded as a characteristic waste.

Wastes that can cause fire are called ignitable waste. These wastes should have a flash point of 140 degrees Fahrenheit and are potentially combustible. 

Corrosive waste includes acids and bases that have the tendency to melt the containers made out of metals such as cans, drums, barrels and storage tanks.

Reactive wastes are those wastes that are unstable under normal conditions and are fatal and harmful when absorbed. The common example of this type of waste is lithium-sulfur batteries.

  • Universal waste:

Universal waste comprises batteries, pesticides, bulbs and mercury containing equipment. These waste should be properly discarded otherwise they end up becoming dangerous for the environment. 

  • Mixed waste:

The fourth type of waste is labeled as mixed waste and contains both hazardous and radioactive waste. The procedure of disposing of this type of waste is extremely complex and is overseen by a number of agencies to ensure they are properly discarded and do not come in contact with any life form.

How to identify hazardous waste?

In order to dispose of hazardous waste it needs to be identified correctly first. Initially the type of hazardous waste should be identified. The waste regulator determines if the waste is hazardous or not. The hazardous waste can be identified on the basis of following characteristics:

  • It can be explosive.
  • It can be flammable.
  • It can be oxidizing.
  • It can be poisonous.
  • It can be infectious.
  • It can be radioactive.
  • It can be corrosive.
  • It can be toxic.

What are different sources of hazardous waste?

Hazardous waste can originate from a number of sources. These sources can be industrial, household, biomedical and radioactive.

  • Industrial waste: industries generate waste which can be hazardous and non-hazardous in nature. Most of the industrial waste is non-hazardous and the hazardous waste is relatively small in volume. 

When tested this waste tends to be toxic, corrosive, and ignitable and can impose severe effects on the environment it is surrounded by. The effects should be assessed in order to determine how much human health is being influenced by them.

  • Household waste: house-hold waste comprises of small amount of hazardous waste. It includes oil-based paints, wood preservatives, paint thinners, household cleaners, insecticides, antifreeze, used motor oil and batteries. Hazardous waste generated from households make up 0.5% of total hazardous waste according to research
  • Biomedical waste: biomedical waste includes hazardous medical waste when it is disposed of incorrectly. These wastes also pose direct health hazards to the person handling the waste.
  • Radioactive waste: several nuclear plants have been installed around the world which is potentially increasing the amount of radioactive contaminants into the environment.

Radioactive waste includes a number of radionuclides which are present in both physical and chemical form. The nuclides can be categorized into low and intermediate level radioactive waste and high level radioactive waste.

For these types of waste conventional disposal methods cannot be used. These waste are subjected to appropriate conditioning and treatment.

What does research say about biodegradation of hazardous waste?

According to scientific research certain biological treatments should be made to treat the hazardous waste in order to make it less harmful, either by targeting the specific compounds present in these waste or decomposing the waste altogether.

However, the technological advancements are slower than anticipated and scientists have yet to come up with processes, organisms that can treat hazardous waste effectively without having severe complications.

Scientists are also coming up with products that can be used by different industries to replace the hazardous waste for instance, bio-plastics and bio-pesticides. The chemicals released during the making of pesticides are hazardous, if these pesticides are replaced with bio-pesticides the release of hazardous waste in the environment can be lowered and thus impacting the environment less severely.

How to dispose of hazardous waste?

Hazardous waste needs to be disposed of with a lot of care and attention as compared to normal everyday waste. Initially they were thrown in the landfills as it is, this resulted in seeping of harmful toxins into the earth. The chemicals then entered the natural waterways. There are varieties of ways stated by different agencies to guide people when it comes to disposing of hazardous waste.

  • The hazardous waste should either be solidified or stabilized before being discarded.
  • Hazardous waste can also be recycled to form new products.
  • Incarnating hazardous waste at high temperatures can help in generating energy.
  • They can be sequestered in permanent disposal facilities or landfills specifically dedicated for the discarding of hazardous waste.
  • Pyrolysis can be used to destroy concentrated organic wastes and persistent organic pollutants.

Can hazardous waste be recycled?

Yes, hazardous waste can be recycled. Since they are not biodegradable the only way to make them environment friendly is by recycling them. There are several ways through which one can recycle hazardous waste. 

  • Materials used to make computers and laptops are somewhat hazardous. They can be recycled by contacting different disposal facilities to collect the used or damaged computer and laptop bits.
  • Used mobile phones can be recycled as well. This can be done by contacting the retailers, banks and stores that accept used mobile phones.
  • Car batteries can be collected by any local waste transfer stations and major battery retailers.
  • Gas cylinders used for bbqs, patio heaters and lamps can be recycled by refilling them or selling them to retailers for replacements.
  • Plastic shopping bags can be recycled by turning them in storage bags or dropping them off into the nearest recycling bins.

Frequently asked questions, β€œis hazardous waste biodegradable?”

What happens when hazardous waste is not disposed of properly?

When hazardous waste is not disposed of properly it can cause a series of repercussions. If the hazardous waste is buried in the soil or ground the toxic materials will leach into the ground and can poison the entire soil. This will impact the plants and water for an extremely long time.

If the hazardous material is tipped down the sink they may corrode the pipes and block drains causing problems for water treatment plants. If they are discarded in the regular garbage, they will pose a big health and safety concern. They will also pollute the waterways and drinking water if discarded in the normal landfills.

Illegal disposing of hazardous waste is a serious offense and can cause penalties.

What are possible hazardous wastes present in the common house?

A common house can have a number of hazardous waste present in it. this can be:

  • Empty aerosol cans
  • Floor-care products
  • Insect spray
  • Kitchen and bathroom cleaners
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Ammonia based cleaners
  • Fluorescent tubes
  • Nail polish and remover
  • Batteries
  • Gas cylinders
  • Fuels
  • Fertilizer
  • Paints
  • Weed killer
  • Pool chemicals
  • Rat poison
  • Solvents and glues
  • Paint stripper
  • Engine oil
  • Mobile phones
  • Coolant and antifreeze
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Car wax
  • Old car batteries
  • Transmission fluid
  • Brake fluid
  • Car body filler

How to handle household hazardous waste?

Household hazardous waste can be handled properly through a number of ways.

The products should be kept in their original containers, if the containers break or end up leaking switch to a new container but never use food containers or soft drink bottles for such products. Do not mix chemicals. 

Make sure all the labels remain intact on the containers including the handling and warning labels. Flammable materials such as matches should not be placed in the storage area and always invest in the smallest amount of the products to prevent any unforeseen accident.

What are different types of biomedical waste that are hazardous?

Biomedical waste encapsulates a number of hazardous waste that can cause health and environmental concern. These are:

  • Infectious waste: any waste containing some kind of pathogen, mainly bacteria is an infectious waste. They can be found in tissues and dressings done during autopsies, treatments and surgeries.
  • Pathological waste: such type of waste includes organs, body parts, blood and bodily fluids.
  • Sharps: contains syringes, needles, infusing sets, blades and broken glasses.
  • Pharmaceutical waste: unused and contaminated pharmaceutical products, vaccines and sera.


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