Services & Maintenance: Handling Hazardous Waste

By Jason Bucholz
Published in the February 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Many facility managers (fms) have probably attended a meeting that included a discussion of reducing the volume of waste disposed of by their organizations. Perhaps it’s even one of the goals for the facility in 2010. Upon being charged with finding ways to achieve this goal, fms might think to themselves, “Alright, if the goal is to divert my facility’s waste to a more sustainable disposal method, how am I going to accomplish this? More importantly, how am I going to do this for the hazardous waste my facility produces?”

Whether reducing the volume of waste disposed of is mandated or presented as a “good thing to do,” fms may be daunted by this goal. However, by committing to it, fms help to build a more sustainable future for their organizations, reduce risks and liabilities, and protect the surrounding environment and communities.

Waste Management Choices

Traditionally, the disposal facilities that accept hazardous waste must meet special criteria and permitting, since hazardous waste is classified under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). However, even with federal guidelines, the waste still has the potential to cause damage including drainage into water sources and a rise in disease carrying animals. More alarming is the potential risk when disposing of special wastes, such as off spec or expired products. If these products are exposed, they could be a significant liability for a facility and the organization overall.

The Waste Management Hierarchy (see diagram below) can help to determine the most appropriate solution. Logically, the point of a waste reduction goal is to decrease the facility’s impact on the environment and society. Therefore, the goal must be approached from the most environmentally sound solution first: recycling. This can be an option for some hazardous waste (e.g., fluorescent lamps); however, not everything can be recycled, and even after recycling, more waste exists. This is particularly true when disposing of hazardous waste, so recycling isn’t often an option. hazardous waste hierarchy facility management

The effects of recycling can be viewed from three perspectives. For the organization that is recycling, this enables its members to feel better about their use of resources, garners favorable publicity, and lowers waste disposal costs. For the community, recycling might create a sense of pride as well as jobs in the recycling industry. And the environment benefits, since the re-use of materials reduces use of raw natural resources. Recycling also minimizes waste sent to landfills, which reduces potential for soil or groundwater contamination.

Ultimately, fms need a safe, reliable, and permanent disposal option for their facility waste. Since recycling won’t handle all waste needs (especially in the hazardous category), an fm can evaluate the Waste Management Hierarchy again, working from the bottom up this time.

Incineration falls in the lower half of the Waste Management Hierarchy, and while it does help reduce the volume of waste, this method does not completely recover resources contained within the waste. Due to the fact that it has been known to emit a variety of airborne pollutants, incineration is also considered a somewhat controversial method of waste management.

Fms should consider the following points about incinerators:

  • Some incinerators do not burn at temperatures that are high enough to destroy the waste compounds completely.
  • Older incinerators have been known to emit heavy metals such as chromium, nickel, arsenic, mercury, and lead.
  • Solid wastes not destroyed during incineration can be toxic and must be disposed of in another manner.

The effects of incinerators can be considered from three perspectives. Organizations that use incineration services leave themselves open to possible liability issues as well as negative publicity, particularly when dealing with hazardous waste. For the community, the opportunity for resource recovery is lost, requiring usage of more raw materials. Still, incinerators reduce the need for landfill space and can help reduce emission of methane from those spaces. However, emissions contribute to greenhouse gases, which are linked to climate change.

Co-Processing As An Option

When waste cannot be recycled, the Waste Management Hierarchy indicates that co-processing is the most environmentally responsible method for waste management. In co-processing, waste can be used to replace both the fuel requirement and the raw materials used by energy intensive facilities such as cement kilns and steel manufacturing. Co-processing completely destroys the waste while also recovering its energy and mineral content, which preserves natural resources and reduces greenhouse gases.

Materials suitable for co-processing (which may or may not be deemed hazardous depending on their specific use at a facility) include: construction and demolition waste, carpet, consumer goods, detergents, expired food, used oil, packaging materials, paint sludge, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, plastics, solvents, textiles, and tires.

The typical procedure for co-processing involves the following steps. A facility’s waste is transported to designated pre-processing facilities. When it reaches the service provider’s location, the waste is put through laboratory analysis and pre-treatment, if required. Solid wastes are shredded to uniform size to yield maximum energy creation and are sometimes blended with liquid waste, forming a relatively dry material that stabilizes the liquids and allows them to be used more easily. The waste is then co-processed, which recovers the energy and mineral components while preserving natural resources and reducing greenhouse gases.

In the cement industry, for example, key points to consider about co-processing in cement kilns include:

  • Co-processing in cement kilns at high temperatures (above 2500°F, or 1370°C) allows for total thermal destruction of waste.
  • If co-processing in cement kilns, fine limestone dust captures heavy metals; those materials are kept out of the atmosphere and fully incorporated into the product.
  • Co-processing in cement kilns produces no additional waste during the process.

Maximizing Waste Management Options

Whether handling hazardous or non-hazardous waste, fms should strive to implement policies and procedures where everything that can be recycled is. But when an item or material cannot be recycled, co-processing is a solution for both hazardous and non-hazardous materials. This disposal method ensures complete thermal destruction of waste, reduced liability and risk to the organization’s reputation, and enhanced regulatory compliance efforts. Co-processing enables fms to achieve their waste management goals today while preserving resources for the future.

Bucholz, a marketing, advocacy and communications professional, has worked in external relations and market development for Geocycle US ( since 2006. Founded in 2002, Geocycle LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Holcim (US) Inc., offering sustainable solutions for waste management needs. Having earned dual Bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and Public Relations from Michigan State University, Bucholz is currently working towards a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan.

What waste management issues do you face? What solutions have you found? Send an e-mail to


  1. It’s helpful to know more about hazardous waste disposal. I like the fact that co-processing is still environmentally friendly, even though it’s not recycling. Hazardous waste should be taken care of responsibly, for sure.

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