What Are the Four Characteristics of Hazardous Waste?

All industrial processes produce some form of waste. In some cases, this waste doesn’t affect human health or pose an immediate danger to people, such as paper and cardboard waste or plastic waste from medical facilities.

However, some forms of industrial waste can be dangerous. Hazardous waste poses a potential threat, either immediate or long-term, to human wellbeing. It requires special treatment and disposal to ensure that it remains safely contained throughout its lifespan.

The EPA classifies hazardous waste into four main categories. These categories describe the dangers of hazardous waste and outline some disposal methods to safely handle the waste during its lifespan.

All hazardous materials have EPA waste codes that can guide manufacturers on best practices regarding handling and disposal.

The Four Main Characteristics of Hazardous Waste

Ignitability of Hazardous Waste

Ignitability refers to the potential for the material to catch fire. While almost anything burns at high enough temperatures, ignitable hazardous wastes include:

  • Compounds with a flashpoint of 60°C or 140F, such as alcohol or gasoline. The flashpoint refers to the lowest temperature at which the fumes above the waste will ignite.
  • Solid waste that can spontaneously combust, such as pyrophoric or self-heating substances.
  • Ignitable compressed gases and oxidizers.

The EPA waste code for ignitable waste substances is D001.

Hazardous Waste Corrosivity

Corrosion is when a substance accelerates the degradation of another substance. Highly corrosive hazardous wastes can eat through containers, leading to weakened structures and potential leaks.

Corrosive hazardous waste is usually aqueous wastes that:

  • Have a pH of less than 2 or higher than 12.5.
  • Can corrode steel.

Common examples of corrosive wastes include battery acid from lithium-sulfur batteries, hydrofluoric acid, or sodium hydroxide.

The EPA code for corrosive waste is D002.

Reactivity of Your Hazardous Waste

Reactivity is a catch-all term that describes unstable waste. The guidelines for identifying reactive wastes include compounds that:

  • Are capable of violent change or explosions under normal conditions.
  • Experience violent change without detonating when heated.
  • React violently when exposed to water.
  • Can form an explosive mixture when exposed to water.
  • Releases toxic gases when mixed with water.

Reactive hazardous wastes can be solids, liquids, or gases.

The code for reactive waste is D003.

Toxicity and Hazardous Waste

Toxic waste is any compound that is harmful to humans when ingested or absorbed. Unlike the three other categories that present acute hazardous waste that’s only dangerous to people directly near it, toxic compounds pose a longer-term threat to the environment.

The EPA has several codes for toxic wastes ranging from D004 to D043.

Evaluating Hazardous Waste Characteristics

Listed Waste

In addition to waste characteristics – ignitability, reactivity, corrosiveness, and toxicity – the EPA contains several lists of wastes that fit a hazardous waste profile.

The two main lists are the F and K list and the P and U list.

The F and K lists contain wastes from non-specific sources (F-list) and waste from specific manufacturing sectors, including wood-preserving wastes and petroleum refining waste (K-waste).

The P and U list identifies certain pure and commercial-grade chemicals that are unused and targeted for disposal.

Mixed Waste

Mixed wastes contain hazardous and radioactive materials. They can be low-level, high-level, or mixed-transuranic wastes and require specialized disposal techniques appropriate to their composition.

Medical Waste

Medical facilities produce many different types of waste. Many labs use strong acids and bases, while contaminated compounds are often toxic.

Work with the Professionals

If you’re not sure you’re correctly disposing of your hazardous waste, contact INGENIUM today. We look forward to helping you find the right hazardous waste solution for your needs!

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