Industrial and commercial activity in the U.S. produces a lot of waste every year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industrial solid waste production alone is estimated to amount to approximately 7.6 billion tons each year, while hazardous waste generation has ranged from 20.3 to 29.1 million tons annually. Here we’ll look into the details of industrial and commercial waste, including what types of waste are generated, how it has impacted our environment, and how proper disposal of these wastes can help prevent further environmental harm, along with some basics on just what proper disposal of industrial and commercial waste entails.
Types of Industrial and Commercial Waste
Industrial waste is defined as waste generated by manufacturing, as well as other industrial processes, such as electric power generation, agricultural production and water treatment, among others. Commercial waste is waste that is generated by stores, wholesalers, restaurants, offices, warehouses and other types of commercial, but non-industrial enterprises. Types of waste produced by industrial and commercial sources include:
Industrial and commercial solid waste, according to the EPA, is solid waste generated by manufacturing or other industrial processes that is not regulated as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Some examples of waste products that fall under this category include paper, cardboard and other packaging materials, plastics, resins, glass, concrete, stone, clay, wood, scrap metal, food waste and food byproducts, rubber and some organic and inorganic chemicals.
Some waste products commonly produced by industrial and commercial establishments are classified under RCRA as hazardous waste. These include more than 400 specific wastes that are named on any of the four RCRA lists. Waste products that appear on these lists, which are called the U, P, K and F lists, are referred to as RCRA-listed wastes. Characteristic wastes are also classified as hazardous waste. These are waste products that meet the RCRA hazardous waste criteria by displaying one or more of the following properties as defined by the EPA:
- Ignitability – Substances that are easily flammable, such as solvents, for instance
- Reactivity – Products that are capable of fast chemical reactions. Peroxides, for instance.
- Corrosivity –Wastes that are able to dissolve metals or burn the skin
- Toxicity – Substances that can release toxins into the environment
Environmental issues related to industrial and commercial wastes
Today, there are strict regulations in place in the U.S. governing the handling, storage and disposal of industrial and commercial wastes. Compliance with these regulations has helped reduce their environmental impact. However, this was not always the case, and there are many environmental issues that have occurred over the years of less stringent regulation that can illustrate the importance of careful management of these waste products.
An August, 2017 article, published by The Center for Public Integrity, draws attention to a variety of instances in which drinking water has been polluted by harmful chemicals, heavy metals and other hazardous wastes due to poor management of industrial and commercial wastes. In some communities, drinking water is still contaminated from waste dumped decades ago. Contaminated water can have far-ranging effects on human health, as well as the health of animals and plants.
Soil contamination is another issue that has arisen due to poor waste management. Many industrial sites, according to the Soil Science Society of America, have soil that is contaminated with substances that may include pesticides, petroleum products, radon, asbestos, lead, chromated copper arsenate, and creosote, among others. Much of that contamination can be traced back to disposal methods that were once considered safe, but have since been proven otherwise. People and animals can be exposed to these harmful substances in a number of ways, including inhalation or ingestion of soil or dust, absorption through the skin, and through fruits and vegetables grown in contaminated soil.
About proper management and disposal
Proper management and disposal of industrial and commercial waste means complying with EPA regulations in regards to hazardous wastes and following best practices in managing wastes that are not as heavily regulated.
Waste products that are RCRA-regulated must be segregated from other wastes into approved collection/storage containers. They must be transported to approved treatment and/or disposal sites by licensed hazardous waste haulers. The details of that process will vary according to the types of hazardous waste to be managed, with guidance readily available from the EPA.
For non-hazardous wastes, best practices call for recycling as much of your waste as possible. Some wastes that cannot be recycled can be reused by other industries, while others may be disposed of by incineration. Typically, any non-hazardous waste that cannot be disposed of by these methods will be sent to approved landfills.
Do you still have questions about proper waste management? Partnering with a full-service waste management company can help. A good waste services provider will have expertise in regulations and best practices, giving you the detailed guidance you need to create a cost-efficient, environmentally responsible waste management process.