Hazardous Waste Label

Hazardous Waste Disposal: Biohazardous, Chemical, and Universal Waste

The hazardous waste disposal process can be highly complex. First, hazardous waste itself is generated from many sources, including industrial manufacturing process wastes and pharmaceutical wastes. For instance, batteries are consider hazardous waste but are also labeled “universal waste.”


The identification process is confusing, too. Hazardous waste generators must consider things like whether a waste is a “listed” or “characteristic” hazardous waste, in which case it’s subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle C regulation. Adding to the perplexity of it all, hazardous waste is, by definition, a solid but comes in many forms—including liquid, solid gas, or sludge.

Because every facility that generates hazardous waste has legal requirements it must meet when preparing for waste disposal, it’s essential to understand how to safely dispose of all hazardous waste, including chemical waste and universal waste.

Hazardous Waste vs. Medical Waste

Technically speaking, medical waste is hazardous waste. The best way to differentiate between the two is:

  • Hazardous waste, sometimes referred to as infectious waste, is waste contaminated with potentially infectious materials deemed a threat to the environment or public health.
  • Medical waste or regulated medical waste (RMW) is healthcare waste that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids, or other conceivably infectious materials.

Contamination determines proper hazardous waste disposal methods. As with every other region in the country, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Southeast provide their own regulations and definitions of medical and hazardous waste streams and how to manage them.

What is Universal Waste?

According to the EPA, hazardous wastes categorized as “universal waste” are commonly generated “in a variety of settings, by a vast community, and present in significant volumes in nonhazardous management systems.” Examples include computers, televisions, and other electronic devices, as well as batteries, pesticides, lamps, mercury-containing equipment, and aerosol cans. Universal waste handlers send their waste to off-site, RCRA-designated facilities for treatment, disposal, or recycling.

However, universal wastes mixed with hazardous wastes are regulated as hazardous waste, as is all mixed hazardous waste. For example, if a medical facility discards mercury containing equipment in the same container with pharmaceutical waste, the hazardous waste takes precedence. Mixed waste is typically more difficult and often more expensive to manage than wastes with just one designation. It’s imperative for waste generators to understand how all types of hazardous waste are classified and to avoid generating mixed wastes whenever possible.

Proper Hazardous Waste Disposal

The growing amount of hazardous waste generated in the U.S. has made it increasingly crucial for waste generators and waste management experts to develop strategies to manage wastes safely and cost-effectively. Multiple regulations govern how to identify hazardous waste, transport it, and properly manage its treatment, storage and disposal. That makes it crucial for staff to be trained on the importance of proper hazardous waste segregation, handling, and disposal. Penalties for improper handling can be steep, such as those recently imposed on Firestone for unlawfully disposing hazardous waste. The company allegedly mishandled solvents, automotive fluids, batteries, aerosols, and electronics. (They were also cited for not shredding paperwork with confidential customer details; a reminder that secure document destruction is not only required for the medical industry.)

TriHaz Solutions’ experts are available to help your facility manage its waste at each step along the disposal process. Hazardous waste generators have cradle-to- grave liability and our chain of custody protocols help ensure that your waste is properly managed in accordance with RCRA requirements.

To learn more about hazardous waste disposal, including how our full-service medical waste collection, treatment, and disposal services help you safely dispose of chemical waste and universal waste, contact TriHaz today.

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