Hazardous waste is waste that is not recyclable or has properties that can harm health and the environment. Containers and packaging that have contained the waste itself are also considered hazardous waste.
The classification of this type of industrial waste depends on the authorities and their regulations, although it is becoming more and more defined. A classification of these wastes would be very useful as this would allow them to be properly marked and an effective treatment according to the type of waste would be applied without any risk. To define the properties that make a waste hazardous there is a common concept, such as toxic, flammable, carcinogenic or infectious, for example.
Much of this type of waste is waste from hospitals, laboratories, industrial waste, etc. Industry is the largest producer of hazardous waste.
A waste is considered hazardous when it meets one or more of the characteristics listed in Annex III of Law 22/2011, of 28 July, on waste and contaminated soils in Spain.
Types of hazardous waste
The most common types of hazardous waste include the following:
Corrosive hazardous waste
These are wastes that can corrode the surfaces with which they come into contact, their physical contact can cause burns or erosions. They are mainly acids.
Hazardous wastes due to chemical reactivity
They are unstable when there are variations in the environment. Their chemical reactivity may cause explosion or corrosion. They are extremely dangerous if they react with another substance such as oxygen, as they are not dangerous on their own. The best known are mercury or lead.
Flammable hazardous waste
These are wastes that are sensitive to heat, which is why they can burn and cause fires. The best known in this group is petroleum.
Explosive hazardous waste
If not treated properly they can explode. For example, gunpowder.
Toxic hazardous waste
These are wastes that can harm human health and the environment because they are toxic. They can be both organic (e.g. health care waste) and inorganic (e.g. arsenic or mercury).
Radioactive hazardous waste
They are dangerous because of the radiation they can emit, so it is very important to contain them. Examples are uranium and plutonium.
Hazardous waste management
Each type of waste needs to be treated differently, either for storage, containment or recycling. Each waste has its own handling protocol and the necessary safety measures will be different. Furthermore, the handling of these wastes must be done by authorised professionals, who must be properly trained to ensure that they are not handled in an irresponsible manner, as they know how to do so under mandatory safety conditions. It is necessary to handle these wastes with the necessary material and tools, providing the person handling the waste with appropriate clothing or equipment so that the waste does not pose a threat.
Waste management in the EU can be understood as an approach based on three principles:
- Waste prevention: as a key principle, the amount of waste generated must be reduced.
- Recycling and reuse: If waste cannot be avoided, as many materials as possible should be recovered, preferably through recycling.
- Improved final disposal and follow-up: Wherever possible, waste that cannot be recycled or reused should be safely incinerated, with landfill only as a last resort.
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