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Hazardous Waste Management

Hazardous wastes can take many forms, from liquid poisons, disease-causing materials, to electronic scrap containing heavy metals. Their management is subject to strict laws, in theory complying to the principle of elimination as close as possible to the place of manufacture and use.

Hazardous waste is a category of waste which is subject to special national and international laws and standards. There are several international agreements which are binding or non-binding for signatory states.

The general categories of waste are: municipal, industrial, mining and agriculture. Within each of these, certain substances may be sub-classified as hazardous, and therefore require separate collection, treatment, and disposal.

  • Industrial wastes: general factory rubbish, packaging materials, organic wastes, acids, alkalis, metalliferous sludges.
  • Mining wastes: production process by-products, topsoil, rock and other dirt and debris, which may be contaminated by metals and coal.
  • Agricultural wastes: animal slurries, silage effluents, tank washings (especially after pesticide or other chemical use), empty packaging.
  • Non-municipal wastes include sewage sludges resulting from treatment of industrial and domestic wastes, which may be contaminated by heavy metal, organic chemicals, greases and oils.

The options for hazardous waste treatment include physical and chemical treatment, incineration, landfill, sea disposal, storage/containment, and recycling.

Waste Determination

For regulatory purposes, determining whether a substance is waste, and which category of wastes it constitutes, is an important and at times complicated process.

When waste is determined to be hazardous, the waste is subject to more stringent handling, storage, treatment and disposal requirements. This often precludes the waste being dumped in a landfill with non-hazardous solid waste.

A waste stream may be identified, through which products or other materials become waste after their useful life and use, and the various stages it passes through to its final disposal point. Waste streams are therefore useful for LCAs.

Hazardous waste in UNCED

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, UNCED, released Agenda 21, a guideline to good environmental management for the 21st century. Chapter 19 is on 'Environmentally Sound Management of Toxic Chemicals, including Prevention of illegal International Traffic in Toxic and Dangerous Products'. Chapter 16 is on 'Environmentally Sound Management of Biotechnology'.

Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 sets out 6 programme areas concerning hazardous waste management:

  1. International assessment of chemical risks
  2. Harmonisation and classification of labelling of chemicals
  3. Information exchange on toxic chemicals and chemical risk
  4. Risk reduction programmes
  5. Management of chemicals
  6. Prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products

Hazardous waste handling, transport, storage and disposal is regulated by national and international law.

EU Hazmat Law

EC law specifies hazardous waste in Directive 91/689 as non-domestic waste listed in Annexes I and II, and which have one or more properties listed in Annex III.


REACH: Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals

Directive (EG) No. 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and Council of 18 December 2006 (in force June 2007) for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical. REACH is applicable to all member states of the EU, and harmonises and simplifies the laws governing chemical substances.

In general, hazardous goods are chemical substances or preparations derived from them (substance mixtures), which are classified according to their hazard potential. The danger presented by a substance or mixture of substances is represented by a warning symbol, categorised further as R or S. An additional hazard potential is CMR substance (carcinogenic, mutagenic, reproductive toxic.

Download: EU toxic waste shipment regulations 2006 (pdf 1.2 MB)

German Hazmat Law

The new German law governing hazardous goods (Gefahrstoffverordnung GefStoffV 01.06.2015) requires an expert report as part of the hazard assessment process.

Since 2007, the term gefährlicher Abfall (dangerous waste) is used in place of the previous term wastes requiring monitoring in German law (KrW-/AbfG 2006). Requirements for disposal of these wastes are higher for technical installations than for normal wastes. The waste law also specifies the procedures and processes to be carried out.

Since 1.4.2010, the waste records procedure for hazardous waste is carried out according to the German Regulation on the verification of waste disposal with the statutory eANV (electronic waste records procedure).

Preliminary and post-processing control: before the start of the disposal process the parties prepare binding documentation concerning the nature, amount and disposal paths of the waste. The preliminary control is used to check the admissibility of the proposed disposal. The post-process control documents the disposal procedure carried out by those involved (consignment notes and handover certificates).

Hazardous waste subject to the statutory obligation to provide evidence. This means that hazardous waste may only be transported by prior administrative approval.

Hazmat Regulation in the USA

The 1986 Mexican-US Hazardous Waste Agreement: hazardous waste is any waste designated as such by the national policies, laws and regulations, which if not handled properly may result in health or environmental damage.


RCRA, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), This federal law governs the disposal of solid wastes, and makes specific provision in Subtitle C to the management of hazardous wastes.

The law seeks to establish controls from cradle to grave: generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal. Those involved at any of these stages are obliged to maintain strict records.

Hazardous waste
Women and children are working unprotected throughout Asia and Africa

More correctly the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). CERCLA is concerned with contaminated sites.

The act led to the founding of ATSDR, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The act authorises the EPA to oversee the clean up of releases or potential releases of hazardous substances which can be shown to endanger public health or welfare or the natural environment. In practice, many states have their own versions of CERCLA.

The act provides a trust fund (Superfund) to cover the initial costs of clean up, and the EPA is authorised to subsequently pursue reimbursement through prosecution of those responsible, via the U.S. Department of Justice.

No unilateral administrative order exists to compel the cleanup of non-hazardous pollutants or contaminants. Waste determination is therefore of critical importance in determining which law and authority is responsible and/or empowered to act on the public's behalf.