Posted on

Do you know if your small business generates hazardous waste? Many business owners do not realize that they generate hazardous waste. Years of conditioning to convenient but environmentally irresponsible disposal methods have allowed tens of thousands of tons of hazardous toxic waste to enter our landfill, our groundwater tables, and even our food.

As a hazardous waste generator, you have enormous responsibilities. Understanding this waste and its hazardous characteristics represents an opportunity to “green” your organization. This article will help you identify these types of hazardous waste and dispose of it correctly and beneficially. Most companies generate what is known as Universal Waste (UW). These types of waste are the items that are commonly thrown away by households and small businesses. Universal waste includes batteries, pesticides, thermostats, fluorescent light bulbs, and electronics. The EPA has established a Universal Waste rule that encourages communities and businesses to establish collection programs. This article will focus on two of these pieces of waste and explain the benefits of recycling them. Hitting the Environment

Hitting the Environment

A major source of toxic waste is batteries. In the United States, approximately three billion batteries are sold annually in the US, but less than one percent of them are recycled. Eventually, toxic metals (cadmium, copper, zinc, lead, manganese, nickel, and lithium) leach out of batteries dumped in landfills, contaminating soil and water. More importantly for human health, many of these contaminants “linger” in the environment, meaning they don’t break down or disappear. This is called “bioaccumulation.” This means that a toxin accumulates in the food chain, and in some cases, the toxin can be carried through the food web to humans. It is clear that recycling them is essential. Recycling companies recover the metals and sell them to industry to be reused and recycled over and over again to save the environment, money, and human health.

Eliminating Electronics

Another major source of toxins is electronic waste. E-waste is among the fastest growing portion of our waste stream due to the rapid obsolescence of technology. Electronic waste makes up up to 5% of the US municipal solid waste stream. Computers and other consumer electronics are full of toxic materials that are extremely dangerous to humans and harmful to the environment if not handled properly. For example, each computer or television screen contains an average of 4 to 8 pounds of lead. Additionally, studies estimate that between 315 million and 600 million desktop and laptop computers in the US will soon become obsolete. A stack of these outdated computers would reach 2 miles high and cover three acres.

When electronics are disposed of improperly and shredded in landfills, lead and other toxins are released into the environment, creating a legacy of hazardous waste for future generations. We’ve all heard the horror stories of e-waste recycling in developing countries, where toxic components are openly burned, dunked in acid baths, dumped into rivers, and crushed by impoverished workers and children without proper personal protective equipment.

The benefits of proper disposal and recycling of electronics and other forms of universal waste include resource conservation, energy savings, increased worker safety, and reduced environmental and public health threats, including greenhouse gases and other emissions. In the long run, the industry itself will stimulate the development of more green technologies.

When you choose to recycle any type of universal waste, it’s important to partner with a responsible supplier. This will help you avoid heavy regulatory fines, lawsuits, and negative press that can result from improper removal. Always ask for chain of custody documentation. The chain of custody refers to the chronological documentation or paper trail that shows the collection, custody, transfer and final disposal of waste. It’s also important to find out if a potential recycler is licensed or has some sort of environmental certification.

There are numerous organizations both public and private that will accept Universal Wastes. Most cities have programs to help you manage this waste. Call your city for more information and to find drop-off center locations. There are many private recyclers that can be easily found with a quick internet search. Additionally, there are several local businesses that recycle small electronics such as old cell phones, toner cartridges, and inkjet cartridges. They do it responsibly, and in some cases, a portion of the proceeds will go to worthwhile charities, creating a win-win opportunity. So go “green” and correctly identify and manage universal waste from your small business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *