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What are the most polluting wastes?

The environmental impact is beginning to be evident in our surroundings, and to reduce it, one of the fundamental factors is that the waste that is produced (which is increasing) is treated and recycled in the correct way to give it a second life.

The most polluting waste is difficult to eliminate and is causing serious problems for ecosystems and, if it reaches the soil or water, it can have a negative impact on people’s health and the environment.

What is a polluting waste

Polluting waste is also called hazardous waste and is waste material that can inherently endanger the health of people and the planet. Whether a waste is hazardous or not is determined by the LER codes. The properties that define a waste as hazardous or polluting are:

  • Toxicity: this characteristic refers to the fact that it causes damage to the organism when it comes into contact with it and can even be fatal.
  • Corrosiveness: this indicates the capacity of certain elements such as strong acids and bases to oxidise and dissolve other materials.
  • Flammability: it is considered flammable when it has a flammability temperature of less than 60.5ºC.
  • Reactivity: a waste is considered reactive when it comes into contact with other substances that cause it to react chemically.
  • Radioactivity: indicates that a waste contains or is contaminated with radionuclides at levels higher than those established.

These are the most contaminating wastes

Heavy metals

Heavy metals are the most polluting and most damaging to the environment. A heavy metal is an element that has a density equal to or greater than 5 g/cm3. Human beings in their daily activities increase the concentration of heavy metals in the soil, which is toxic for both flora and fauna, not forgetting human beings. Some of the waste with heavy metals can be:

Lead batteries

Batteries are composed of lead plates and sulphuric acid. They are highly toxic because, when exposed to the air, these elements oxidise and generate other more dangerous and polluting elements.

Lead smelting

Lead is a metal used to manufacture many products. During its function, it releases toxic elements (iron or zinc) that are highly polluting and affect the health of millions of people.

Mining products

Mining waste is among the most polluting wastes because it is associated with the production of hazardous substances such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, chromium or mercury. It is estimated that the toxic waste generated by the mining industry directly affects the health of more than two million people worldwide.

Classical pollutants

Classical pollutants have a lower toxicity than heavy metals, but are generated in greater quantities. They include:

  • Carbon dioxide: the main greenhouse gas emitted as a result of human activities.
  • Hydrogen chloride: a gas which, in contact with water, forms hydrochloric acid, and is a major pollutant.
  • Other solid particles.

Most of these wastes are generated by industry and transport, which are highly polluting to air, water and soil.

Synthetic organic compounds

Another of the most polluting wastes are synthetic organic compounds, which are present in numerous chemical products of different uses such as fuels, plastics, detergents or paints.

These residues are highly toxic and polluting and can cause serious health problems. They are usually found in the waste generated every day both in domestic waste and in industrial plants.

Legislation for the most polluting waste

As mentioned at the beginning, this waste is very difficult to remove from nature. The importance of recycling in this sense becomes fundamental in order to prevent soil and water pollution. To this end, there is legislation that companies must comply with.

EU waste policy aims to contribute to the circular economy by extracting high-quality resources from waste as much as possible. The European Green Deal aims to promote growth by transitioning to a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy. As part of this transition, several EU waste laws will be reviewed.

The Waste Framework Directive is the EU’s legal framework for treating and managing waste in the EU. It introduces an order of preference for waste management called the waste hierarchy.

Certain categories of waste require specific approaches. Therefore, as well as the overarching legal framework, the EU has many laws to address different types of waste.

At ScrapAd, companies in the recycling sector can buy and sell waste easily, quickly and securely. In this way, we give these wastes a new chance to return to the production flow, even polluting waste, so that they do not end up in the landfill. Sign up for free and find out what we can do for you and the planet.

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