How Is Hazardous Waste Recycled?

How is hazardous waste recycled? Recycling expert Gerry Acuna explains how toxic and hazardous waste is "recycled". "Hazardous waste is not really recycled, it is treated," says Gerry Acuna, the president...

"Hazardous waste is not really recycled, it is treated," says Gerry Acuna, the president of Tri Recycling Inc., who has been involved in recycling for 12 years.

So, how do you determine what is hazardous waste and what is not?

Acuna explains, "Hazardous waste is anything that is combustible or toxic and that includes a lot of your household goods: pesticides, oil, paints, and gasoline."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides a more specific definition on their website: "Hazardous waste is a waste with properties that make it dangerous or potentially harmful to human health or the environment. The universe of hazardous wastes is large and diverse. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, contained gases, or sludges. They can be the by-products of manufacturing processes or simply discarded commercial products, like cleaning fluids or pesticides."

A national response to the need for safely disposing of or reusing hazardous waste was the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency's Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

"[The] EPA encourages handlers of hazardous waste to adopt practices and choose materials that will reduce the amount of waste generated, thus preventing pollution at its source. In each case, the public derives significant benefits from EPA's safe hazardous waste recycling regulations," reads a pamphlet on their website.

So what are some of the ways that hazardous materials are reintroduced to the environment?

Certain chemicals are used to neutralize the toxicity of many items that could contaminate water and soil upon their disposal. Other items, like motor oil used in cars and trucks, are refined to create more oil or burned for fuel purposes.

Another common household item that is hazardous yet recyclable is latex paint.

The Minnesota Office for Environmental Assistance highlights the benefits of using this second-hand commodity.

"Recycled paint's lower prices can translate to big cost reductions for your paint jobs," reads a fact sheet on their site, claiming a savings of up to 50%.

In addition to the reduced cost, the office points out that the performance of the product is comparable to its new counterpart "Recycled paint runs through the same quality tests that are used in the [manufacturing] of new, non-recycled paint"

So if you have paint, motor oil, batteries and other hazardous waste products, how can you as an individual recycle them?

Acuna stresses that some communities, like his in Texas, make it very easy to participate in proper hazardous waste disposal.

"Here in the city of Austin, we have a household hazardous waste program and people can bring their leftover paint and other items in. The recycling occurs when we make those chemicals or items available to other users."

Check with your local city and state government websites to see what programs exist in your area.

Of course if the items aren't recyclable, there are places for them as well.

Acuna says, "Disposal is done in a hazardous waste landfill or other proper ways,these products cannot go to a normal everyday landfill."

The important thing is to educate yourself about potentially hazardous waste and act responsibly.

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