Section 3002(b) of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires generators of hazardous waste to certify that they have a waste minimization program in place, for the purpose of reducing the volume or quantity and toxicity of hazardous waste generated to the extent economically practicable.
Beyond simply complying with regulatory mandates, a waste minimization plan can create a positive environmental impact and save the College money. A better-managed inventory and closer lifecycle management of chemicals can reduce the costs associated with purchasing; inventory control; and waste management—including off-site transportation, treatment, and disposal.
Waste minimization is a waste management approach that focuses on reducing the amount and toxicity of hazardous waste that is generated. There are three components to this approach: Source Reduction, Substitution, and Recycling.
Changing practices and processes to reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous wastes and materials is referred to as source reduction. Some source reduction methods include chemical substitution, process modification, and improved operating procedures:
• Maintain an accurate inventory of all laboratory chemicals. Check the inventory to see if the chemical might be available elsewhere on campus. Another department may have an excess of the chemical that you need, and it doesn’t cost anything to ask if they would be willing to share.
• Only order the quantity of the material that you need. Larger containers or amounts may appear as a cost savings for the department, however, the cost to the College, including additional disposal expenses, storage space and labor costs, may eliminate any departmental cost savings.
• Substitute a non-hazardous or a less hazardous material whenever possible. Use a less toxic cleaning agent if one is available.
• Never mix hazardous and non-hazardous waste streams. Doing so increases the amount of hazardous waste to be disposed of. Example: If you add gasoline waste to a container of non-flammable “non-hazardous” waste motor oil,” the entire volume becomes “hazardous.”
• Dispose of materials as soon as you determine that they are no longer needed. Do not hold a material so long that the container begins to degrade and the material is of no use. Let others know that you have unwanted materials. There may be a use somewhere else on campus.
• Improperly or unlabeled bottles (unknowns) are very costly to dispose of due to the necessity of performing analytical screening test on each bottle to determine the proper DOT shipping category. (Unlabeled containers can also result in major penalties from the EPA or Connecticut DEEP.)
In the science departments, consider the use of “Micro” or “Mini Scale” laboratory chemistry when planning experiments. Micro scale chemistry is a method of performing chemical processes using very small quantities of chemicals, without compromising the quality and standard of chemical applications in the laboratory.
Micro scale chemistry offers many benefits:
• It reduces the amount of chemical used, resulting in waste reduction at the source.
• It offers vastly improved laboratory safety by improving laboratory air quality, reducing exposure to hazardous chemicals, reducing the risk of fire and explosion, and reduces the risk of chemical spills.
• It sharply reduces laboratory costs. (Chemical purchase and disposal costs)
• It requires shorter experiment time.
• It provides for a cleaner and more organized laboratory environment.
• It promotes the principle of 3Rs: Reduce, Recover and Recycle, enhancing the goal of 'Green Chemistry'.
Chemical Substitution is when a non-hazardous chemical or a chemical of a lesser toxicity can be used in place of another. Evaluate procedures to see if less hazardous chemical materials can be substituted for ones that are used. A less toxic chemical product may reduce cost of disposal as well as a reduced exposure to employees.
The third method of waste minimization is recycling. Recycling is when a waste material is used for another purpose, treated and reused in the same process, or reclaimed for another process. Some examples include:
• Purchasing gas cylinders, including lecture bottles from manufacturers who will accept the return of the partially used or empty cylinders.
• Collecting ballasts, electronic equipment, and lead acid, mercury, lithium, and nickel-cadmium batteries for commercial recycling.
• Reclaiming metallic mercury if the mercury is not mixed with any other waste streams.
• Redistilling used solvents.
Redistributing unused, unwanted or surplus chemicals within your department, or elsewhere on campus.