What Are the Hidden Dangers of Hazardous Waste?
It should go without saying that hazardous waste poses a huge risk to all of us, as well as to the environment around us. In order to safeguard both human and animal lives, and to also protect our watercourses and soil, we must ensure that any hazardous waste is properly managed and disposed of.
This month at Reston Waste, we’ll explore what items can be classed as hazardous waste, the various types, the specific hazards that batteries pose, the risk of fires from hazardous waste and how you can safely dispose of your hazardous waste.
What is hazardous waste?
When dealing with any waste, it helps to know what is hazardous – and therefore needs careful handling – and what is not. Hazardous waste is classified as anything that could be harmful to the health of humans or the environment around us.
Hazardous waste does not come from any single source, it can be generated in manufacturing, construction, healthcare, agriculture and even at home. One key component that makes this waste so hazardous is the harmful substances they contain, including:
- Corrosive chemicals
- Flammable materials
- Toxic chemicals
Types of hazardous waste
Hazardous waste can be found in numerous forms, each requiring its own careful handling and disposal. Some common types of hazardous waste you’re likely to find in the UK include:
Such waste can include solvents, paints, pesticides, cleaning agents and other substances with toxic or flammable properties.
Batteries contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury, which can leach into the environment if improperly disposed of. They can also pose a risk of fire and can potentially become explosive (more on this in our next section).
Expired or unused medications and pharmaceutical products are considered hazardous waste due to their potential impact on ecosystems and human health — particularly if they get into our watercourses.
Although banned in the UK, asbestos can still be found in older buildings. Its fibrous nature makes it highly dangerous when disturbed, as it can cause severe respiratory diseases.
Discarded electronic devices, such as computers, TVs and mobile phones, contain harmful components like lead, mercury and flame-retardant chemicals.
Generated from within the healthcare industry, biomedical waste, including needles, syringes and bandages, can contain harmful microorganisms, risking contamination and infection if not properly disposed of.
Why are batteries hazardous waste?
Lithium-ion batteries in particular pose a unique hazard due to the chemicals they contain, something we’ve already touched on. Because these are such common items, many people don’t give enough thought to their proper disposal.
Batteries, especially rechargeable ones, include heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury. These metals are highly toxic and can contaminate soil and water if not properly disposed of via secure channels. When batteries degrade in landfill sites, the heavy metals can seep into the ground and potentially enter water bodies, leading to harmful effects on both ecosystems and human health.
In addition to the above, there has been a rise in the number of fires caused by batteries. This is because they have become too hot or because the cells within have sustained damage. As you can imagine, this becomes extremely dangerous when they are thrown away with waste as it insulates the battery, increasing the temperature and providing fuel for any subsequent fire.
Common items with lithium-ion batteries integrated into them that you may not have considered include:
- Mobile phones
- Electric toothbrushes
- Electronic vapes
Risk of fires in waste
Poor management of any hazardous items can increase the risk of fires in waste. Certain materials, such as flammable liquids, aerosols and reactive substances, can ignite or explode under specific conditions. If these hazardous materials are not segregated properly or are stored inappropriately, fires can occur and spread rapidly. Hazardous waste fires not only endanger lives and property, but also release toxic fumes and pollutants into the air, posing severe health risks to nearby communities.
How to dispose of hazardous waste
We cannot accept hazardous waste here at Reston Waste, as there are specific laws and guidelines in place to help appropriately manage such waste. This means no hazardous items should be placed in skips or with your rubbish awaiting collection.
Here are some of the steps you should take if you have hazardous waste to dispose of:
- Identify your hazardous waste: First, check that any waste you’re dealing with doesn’t contain any hazardous items. You can help to classify your waste by comparing it against the European Waste Catalogue (EWC).
- Segregate and store properly: It is illegal to mix hazardous waste with non-hazardous waste. This is because it creates contamination and can render all your waste hazardous. For this reason, you must store and label your hazardous waste appropriately before disposal via the proper channels.
- Use appropriate recycling and treatment facilities: Different hazardous wastes will require you to find appropriate recycling and treatment facilities, helping to protect the environment. These facilities will be better equipped to handle your hazardous waste through different practices.
Remember, here at Reston Waste, we cannot accept your hazardous waste. You must not mix hazardous items into your waste for any skip hire or waste management service we provide, as this can be dangerous for our drivers, the public and the wider local environment.
We can, however, offer separate, specialist services for persistent organic pollutants (POPS). You can read more about this hazardous waste type and how to deal with it in our previous post.
By following the correct procedures for handling and disposing of hazardous waste, we can all do our part to minimise the risks associated with these materials and contribute to a cleaner and safer environment here in London.
You can read more about our permitted and restricted waste types via our dedicated page.