Every year, the UK generates millions of tonnes of waste, with a significant portion classified as hazardous. Knowing how to identify and handle hazardous waste is crucial for public health, environmental protection, and legal compliance.
Today, we’ll explore what hazardous waste is, how it is regulated in the UK, and the best practices for storing hazardous waste safely:
What Is Hazardous Waste?
Hazardous waste refers to any waste material that poses a threat to human health, the environment, or both due to its toxic, corrosive, flammable, or reactive properties. It can come from various sources, including industries, households, and healthcare facilities. Common examples of hazardous waste include:
- Chemical waste from manufacturing processes
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Electronic waste containing hazardous substances like lead and mercury
- Oil and other petroleum-based products
- Asbestos-containing materials
- Medical waste, such as sharps and infectious substances
- Batteries containing heavy metals
- Fluorescent tubes containing mercury vapour
Regulation of Hazardous Waste in the UK
In the UK, hazardous waste is regulated by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005 (as amended). These regulations set out the requirements for the classification, handling, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous waste. The Environment Agency (EA) is responsible for enforcing these regulations, and non-compliance can result in hefty fines and even prosecution.
The Hazardous Waste Regulations require that any organisation producing, storing, or disposing of hazardous waste must first register with the EA. Businesses must also classify their waste according to the European Waste Catalogue (EWC) codes and ensure that it is managed, stored, and disposed of by licensed waste carriers and facilities.
Storing Hazardous Waste
Proper storage of hazardous waste is crucial to prevent accidents, environmental contamination, and legal issues. Businesses and organisations handling hazardous waste must follow best practices and comply with relevant regulations. Here are some key considerations for storing hazardous waste safely:
Different types of hazardous waste should be stored separately to prevent chemical reactions, fires, and other accidents. For example, flammable liquids should not be stored near oxidising agents, and acids should be kept away from bases.
Clearly label all hazardous waste containers with the type of waste, EWC code, and any relevant hazard symbols. This helps ensure proper handling, transportation, and disposal and reduces the risk of accidents.
3. Use Appropriate Containers
Hazardous waste must be stored in suitable containers made from materials compatible with the waste. Containers should be in good condition and have tightly sealed lids to prevent leaks and spills. Use secondary containment, such as bunds or spill trays, to capture any leaks or spills from the primary container.
4. Indoor Storage
Whenever possible, store hazardous waste indoors to protect it from weather conditions, vandalism, and unauthorised access. Ensure that storage areas are well-ventilated and have appropriate fire safety measures in place.
5. Inspections and Maintenance
Regularly inspect hazardous waste storage areas for signs of leaks, spills, or other issues. Maintain a clean and organised storage area, and address any problems promptly.
6. Employee Training
Ensure that employees who handle hazardous waste are trained on proper handling, storage, and disposal procedures. They should also be aware of emergency procedures in case of accidents or spills.
Lastly, keep accurate records of the types and quantities of hazardous waste generated, stored, and disposed of. This information is essential for reporting to the EA and demonstrating compliance with regulations.
Disposing of Hazardous Waste
In the UK, there are specific rules and guidelines that we must follow to ensure that hazardous waste is properly and safely disposed of:
1. Identifying Hazardous Waste
The first step towards the safe disposal of hazardous waste is identifying what is considered hazardous. According to the UK government, hazardous waste includes, but is not limited to, the following items:
- Chemicals (e.g., brake fluid, printer toner, pesticides)
- Batteries (both vehicle and household batteries)
- Pesticides and other garden chemicals
- Oils (e.g., cooking oil, engine oil)
- Equipment containing ozone-depleting substances (e.g., fridges, air conditioning units)
- Fluorescent tubes and energy-saving light bulbs
2. Segregating Hazardous Waste
Once you have identified the hazardous waste items, it is essential to segregate them from your general waste. Keep them separately and ensure that they are stored in a safe and secure manner to avoid spillage or contamination.
3. Local Council Services and Collection Points
Many local councils in the UK offer services to collect and dispose of hazardous waste. You can check your local council’s website or contact them to find out if they provide this service and the specific items they accept. Additionally, some councils have designated collection points or recycling centres where you can drop off your hazardous waste.
4. Licensed Hazardous Waste Disposal Companies
In the UK, there are licensed hazardous waste disposal companies that specialise in the collection, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste. These companies are regulated by the Environment Agency and must follow strict guidelines to ensure the safe disposal of hazardous materials. You can find a list of licensed hazardous waste carriers on the Environment Agency’s website. It is essential to choose a reputable and licensed company to ensure that your waste is disposed of in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.
5. Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs)
Some Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) in the UK accept specific types of hazardous waste, such as batteries, cooking oil, and paint. It is essential to check with your local HWRC to confirm the types of hazardous waste they accept and any restrictions that may apply. Remember to follow any safety guidelines provided by the HWRC when handling and transporting hazardous waste.
6. Safe Disposal of Asbestos
Asbestos is a hazardous material that requires special handling and disposal procedures. If you suspect that you have asbestos-containing materials in your home, you should contact a licensed asbestos removal contractor to safely remove and dispose of them. Do not attempt to handle or remove asbestos yourself, as it can release harmful fibres when disturbed.
7. Proper Disposal of Electronic Waste
Electronic waste, such as computers, mobile phones, and televisions, can contain hazardous materials like lead, mercury, and cadmium. Therefore, it is crucial to dispose of them correctly. Many local councils and HWRCs offer electronic waste recycling services where you can drop off your old electronics for proper disposal.
Storing hazardous waste safely is crucial for protecting public health and the environment and complying with UK regulations. By understanding what hazardous waste is, how it is regulated, and following best practices for storage and disposal, businesses and organisations can minimise risks and fulfil their legal obligations.
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