Dealing with Household Hazardous Wastes

Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) are leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients such as paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, pesticides etc. HHW contain potentially hazardous ingredients and require special care and safe disposal. 

household-hazardous-wastes

A typical home can contain a vast array of household hazardous wastes used for cleaning, painting, beautifying, lubricating and disinfecting the house, yard, workshop and garage. The chemical-based household products from a single home may seem insignificant; but, when millions of homes use similar products, handling, storing and disposing them improperly may have the combined impact and becomes a major problem.

The health and safety of our families, neighborhoods and environment is threatened when HHW is stored or disposed of improperly. These products should not be put in the garbage bins or disposed in the storm drains or burned, as they pose a threat to human health and the environment. Thousands of consumer products are hazardous. The general categories are:

  • Automotive products: Gasoline, motor oil, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, car wax and cleaners, lead-acid batteries, brake fluid, transmission fluid etc.
  • Home improvement products: Paint, varnish, stain, paint thinner, paint stripper, caulk, adhesives etc.
  • Pesticides: Insecticide and insect repellent, weed killer, rat and mouse poison, pet spray and dip, wood preservative etc.
  • Household cleaners: Furniture polish and wax, drain opener, oven cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, spot remover, bleach, ammonia etc.
  • Other: Household batteries, cosmetics, pool chemicals, shoe polish, lighter fluid, prescription medicines etc.

Each year, thousands of people are injured by exposure or accident involving hazardous household products.  Because of the dangers they pose. These products require special awareness, handling, and disposal.  In order to protect health and environment, every consumer should know how to properly use, store, and dispose of hazardous household products. 

Many common household products contain hazardous chemicals.  Once released into the environment, these substances may pose a serious threat to living organisms.  Small quantities of hazardous substances can accumulate over time to reach dangerous levels and contaminate the air, water, and soil. 

Here are some basic guidelines for managing household hazardous wastes:

  • Select the least toxic item and buying only the minimum quantity as required.
  • Read the entire label carefully for health warnings and use good judgment when choosing any product.
  • Store the product at a safe place and away from the children reach.
  • Avoid aerosol products.
  • Always use hazardous products in a well-ventilated area.
  • Never leave containers open.  Many products are volatile, evaporating quickly into the air. 
  • Always seal containers tightly after use.
  • Never mix chemicals and hazardous products. 
  • Do not use spent chemical containers for other purposes.
  • Wear protective clothing such as gloves and a mask when dealing with any hazardous material. 
  • Wash clothing exposed to hazardous materials separately from other clothes.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while using hazardous products.
  • Clean up the place after using hazardous products. Carefully seal products and properly refasten all caps.
  • Never put hazardous products in food or beverage containers.
  • Keep products away from sources of heat, spark, flame or ignition.
  • Know where flammable materials are located in your home and how to extinguish them.
  • Keep a multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher in your home.

Solid Waste Management – History and Future Outlook

The disposal of municipal solid waste is the second most major concern for public health in developing countries because of population explosion, rampant poverty and high urbanization rates combined with poor government funding to curb waste management. Factors such as waste composition, technologies and lack of infrastructure have been found to set apart the good management of solid wastes in developing nations. Municipal waste is mainly comprised of paper, vegetable matter, plastics, metals, textiles, rubber and glass. In some countries (developing as well as developed), municipal solid waste is mixed with medical wastes and this may pose health risk to waste handlers and general public.

Burying the wastes has become most preferred method for waste management in many countries. This method is still used in many more countries. Tackling environmental issues has become more important and more preferred than pollution and consumption of unsustainable utilization of resources. Most importantly, the primary objective of waste management is to put emphasis on protecting the people and environment from potentially harmful effects of waste.

Methods of Solid Waste Management

Depending on the types of wastes generated, four methods of solid waste management has been used throughout the history, i.e. dumping, incineration, recycling and waste prevention. Waste generated from household is much different from industrial waste, agricultural waste, medical waste or mining wastes.

When wastes contain any hazardous component, or it has capability to become hazardous with time, poses very serious threat to environment and health. Hazardous wastes generated needs to be handled very carefully, with special techniques. This is one of the major reasons of open landfills are getting replaced with sanitary landfills.

At a landfill, wastes are covered with thick layer of soil. By the late 1950, this practice was very common for waste management across the world. Earlier landfills had considerable sludge and methane emissions, which were harmful to the environment as well as animal and human health. But these issues have been resolved largely by modern disposal methods, which were developed around 20 years ago. Modern landfills are equipped with thick layer of clay followed by plastic sheets. This method was practiced by some nations and still going on.

In 1930-1940, many cities in USA adopted new technology to curb waste issues by burning at high temperature, this method is known as incineration. During initial years, this method was not very efficient and emit very large amount of poisonous gasses, this is the major reason of incinerators shut down during that period. During mid-1970s, scientists modified incinerators to generate energy, which are known as waste to energy plants. But after around a decade, it has become major issue to build these plants, again because of emission issues.

With development of technology, waste burning in advanced form of incinerators became common in 1970s, researchers across the world bet on incinerators or waste to energy plants for solution to energy crisis in 1973. However, with realisation of impact on environment and air quality, it become very difficult to find location to build any waste to energy plants, mainly because of public opposition. Another issue with incinerator is production of ashes, which contain huge amount of heavy metals, toxic and inorganic compounds.

waste-to-energy-plant

Incineration is the most common waste-to-energy method used worldwide.

Future Outlook of Solid Waste Management

The overall concept of wastes needs to be considered economically, it will be more considered as economically viable product if waste is considered as an inefficiency of the production process not as rejected residue of waste product. A permanent rejection or heavy restriction into products which produces waste that cannot be accumulated back into the environment safely.

The major challenge in waste management is to persuade people/community to consider waste as a resource, rather than a liability on society, which can be created with more innovation and technological development of manufacturing industry, waste processing industry and new business model and plans.

This planning system will create circular economy where product value created by inputs (e.g. energy, materials, labour etc.) is extended by enabling a material that goes into circular economy, beyond product life. We go from mineral to metals to product then back to minerals/metals. By understanding economic cycle of waste, people will understand the creation of opportunities to more sustainable product in future with limited resources.

Sustainable Solid Waste Management: Need of the Hour

The primary aim of sustainable solid waste management is to address concerns related to public health, environmental pollution, land use, resource management and socio-economic impacts associated with improper disposal of waste. “This growing mountain of garbage and trash represents not only an attitude of indifference toward valuable natural resources, but also a serious economic and public health problem”. These words from the former US President Jimmy Carter is enough to understand the social, economical and environmental impact of mismanaged waste disposal and an urgent call for help to look for innovative, smart, sustainable and effective waste disposal techniques.

According to UNEP, around 3 billion tons of waste is generated every year, with industrial waste being the largest contributor, especially from China, EU and USA. There has been a steady increase in the quantity of e-wastes and hazardous waste materials. The UNEP study observed a drastic shift from high organic to higher plastic and paper corresponding to increase in the standards of living and also made an interesting correlation between the higher GDP and the quantity of municipal waste collections.

In developing and under-developed countries, the use of open dumps to dispose of the solid waste from different sectors is staggeringly high compared to the developed and high income countries that are more dependent on recycling and use of sanitary landfills that are isolated from the surrounding environment until it is safe.

There are serious concerns on the increasing cost of waste disposal, especially in developing countries. It is estimated that around $200 billion are being spent on waste management in the OECD countries for both municipal and industrial waste.

For developing countries, at least 20-50% of its annual budget is devoted to waste management schemes and strategy that has been reported insufficient and inefficient at the same time. In these countries, use of unscientific and at times unethical and outdated waste management practices have led to various environmental repercussions and economic backlashes. Even the relatively small proportion of waste recycling and other waste minimization and re-use techniques for waste disposal is alarming.

The increasing cost of waste disposal is a cause of major concern in developing nations

As sustainable solid waste management evolves through waste awareness among general public, efforts within the industry, and waste management becoming not just an environmental concern but a political and strategic apprehension too, there are realistic chances of advancements and scientific innovations.

Innovation will then give birth to revolutionary and self-sustaining ideas within the industry, which earlier focused on basic waste management, will now grow towards maximum utilization and sustainable management of waste.

In the last couple of decades, sustainable solid waste management has become a matter of political significance with robust policies, strategies and agendas devised to address the issue. The good thing is that the industry has responded with innovative, cost-effective and customized solutions to manage solid wastes in an environmental-friendly manner.