The world produces around 400 million tons of hazardous waste each year. When managed improperly, hazardous waste can cause significant and long-lasting damage to both human health and the environment. For manufacturers, this can result in potential fines, legal battles, and can even result in a facility being shuttered. This article will explore some fundamental aspects of hazardous waste management, examine the dangers organizations might encounter, and explain how modern technology can help navigate those risks.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines hazardous waste as “a waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment.” Hazardous waste is primarily produced by modern human activities like industrial manufacturing and agriculture and in various forms like batteries, pesticides, oil, and other chemicals. Hazardous waste can appear in multiple states, such as gas, liquid, and solid, and there are numerous types and characteristics of hazardous waste.
According to the EPA’s cradle-to-grave hazardous waste management program, businesses that generate hazardous waste are responsible for it from the time it is created, while it is transported, treated, and stored, and until it is disposed of. Therefore, companies cannot simply pass the problem on; they must manage the process from beginning to end. Proper hazardous waste management ensures that the storage, treatment, and disposal of dangerous waste are conducted to protect the health and safety of people and the environment. The specific waste management procedures vary by industry and the amount of waste produced.
Hazardous waste management involves several key components designed to promote safe handling, storage, transportation, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste materials. Each of these areas is essential for an effective and responsible hazardous waste management system, ensuring the protection of human health and the environment. However, any organization that manages hazardous waste will likely experience some, or all, of these key challenges:
Compliance with strict laws and regulations regarding hazardous waste management can sometimes be complex or daunting. Generator status, sham recycling, and improper identification are just a few of the potential landmines a facility faces. This process becomes even more complicated when companies must adhere to local and state regulations on top of the federal requirements. In addition, regulations may change over time within these different jurisdictions, and staying current with the most recent laws requires that organizations continually monitor changes and understand how changes within their own operations will impact their regulatory obligations.
Determining if waste meets the criteria set forth by regulatory bodies is the vital first step in hazardous waste management. When a company decides on the waste classification, it must also determine how to handle and dispose of it. Misclassification can lead to improper management, risk to human health and the environment, and noncompliance with regulations.
To minimize the impact and costs of hazardous waste management, companies are often required or encouraged to find ways to reduce the amount they generate. The goal is to reduce hazardous waste generation at its source through process modifications, recycling, reuse, or implementing cleaner production techniques. This process requires considerable thought and preplanning and a deep understanding of the methods and options available to generators.
The storage and disposal process often involves specialized facilities and procedures that add cost and logistical challenges for companies. Hazardous waste must be stored and disposed of to minimize potential harm and prevent cross-contamination and potential reactions. Different types of hazardous waste need to be held in containers that are compatible with the waste, meet safety requirements, and are correctly labeled. The final step in the lifespan of a hazardous material is disposal, which can include landfilling, incineration, and deep well injection, all of which must comply with local, state, and federal regulations.
A high administrative burden is involved in properly managing hazardous waste. However, keeping detailed records of hazardous waste generation, handling, transportation, treatment, and disposal is essential and proves that your organization is adhering to regulations. These records can include manifests, permits, monitoring data, and other relevant documentation regulatory agencies require. Rigorously tracking and documentation is one of the primary ways to ensure compliance with regulations and measure the effectiveness of a waste management program.
Anyone involved in hazardous waste management must be adequately trained on potential risks and procedures. Training should be tailored to the individual's role in the hazardous waste management program, and should include, as appropriate, handling techniques, safety protocols, emergency response, and regulatory compliance. In addition, continuous education and awareness programs help keep personnel updated on best practices and changing regulations. Maintaining this level of training can be time-consuming and expensive for companies, but it is necessary to avoid injuries and environmental incidents and maintain compliance.
As technology advances, new approaches to long-standing issues have started emerging in the market. Among these, EHS management software stands out as one of the most efficient options for tackling these issues. Here are a few ways software can help manage the challenges of hazardous waste management:
Ensuring regulatory compliance: EHS software can help organizations stay up-to-date with the latest regulations and guidelines, providing proper waste management and avoiding legal penalties.
Streamlining and automating processes: EHS software can automate and optimize waste management processes, improving efficiency and reducing the chances of human error.
Waste inventory management: EHS software can provide accurate, real-time data on waste inventory, enabling better planning and decision-making for waste disposal and treatment.
Improved communication: EHS software can facilitate communication between different departments and stakeholders, supporting coordination and collaboration in hazardous waste management
Regulatory reporting: EHS software can support waste reporting, such as the Biennial Report, and streamline the sharing of that information with regulators, easing a significant administrative burden, reducing the likelihood of errors, and helping to meet critical deadlines.
By implementing EHS software, organizations can overcome the challenges in hazardous waste management and promote safer, more sustainable, and cost-effective solutions.
Effective hazardous waste management is crucial for safeguarding human health, protecting the environment, and avoiding legal and financial repercussions. However, the field faces significant challenges. Organizations should explore EHS management software as an effective solution to address these challenges, and Dakota Software is a great place to start.
Dakota’s integrated suite of EHS management solutions provides the tools and resources to effectively manage compliance and improve safety performance. Our solutions help plan EHS compliance programs and track related tasks so that waste is handled and disposed of according to regulatory requirements. In addition, our regulatory database and facility-specific compliance profiles help organizations build the necessary infrastructure for proper waste management. Our audit solutions can even help verify ongoing compliance against relevant regulatory requirements, ensuring your facilities are adhering to hazardous waste management standards.
Visit our Demo Library to learn more about how our comprehensive solutions can help you manage hazardous waste management more effectively.