Businesses across all different sectors are responsible for proper waste disposal, especially businesses that generate hazardous waste. Ensuring proper disposal of hazardous waste is a critical task for hazardous waste generators, as improper disposal poses a severe threat to both the environment and human health.
Beyond the environmental and health implications, there are also laws a business must consider for ensuring proper hazardous waste management. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a series of regulations meant to track and regulate the management of hazardous materials as a response to the growing need for waste management standards. In these regulations, businesses are required to adopt a cradle-to-grave management approach.
The cradle-to-grave approach in waste management is a critical component of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a law that establishes a framework for the proper management of hazardous waste from creation, or “cradle,” to disposal, or “the grave.”
What Is a Cradle-to-Grave Analysis?
A cradle-to-grave analysis is a technique used to appraise the environmental impact associated with all stages of a product’s life (from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). This technique helps businesses easily recognize any environmental concerns and implications associated with their operations. A cradle-to-grave analysis involves taking inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases, evaluating the potential associated impacts, and interpreting the results to make a more informed decision.
Cradle-to-Grave Waste Management Approach
In the cradle-to-grave waste management approach, generators of hazardous waste are liable for the proper handling of waste at every stage of the waste management process, including:
The “cradle” in cradle-to-grave waste management refers to the types and amounts of hazardous waste a given company produces. It is the company’s responsibility to establish whether or not the identified waste is hazardous and document the waste with proper identification and handling procedures. Through waste reduction practices or recycling, most companies begin the management process by minimizing their waste output.
Ensuring that waste and waste transportation methods meet the Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements is another responsibility of the waste generator. All waste must be shipped adhering to the DOT Standards, which mandate that hazardous waste is properly labeled, stored in suitable containers and sealed to prevent it from being exposed to the environment.
Certain types of waste can be recycled safely and effectively as they are, while others require treatment (such as solidification and stabilization) in order to protect groundwater, soil, and air quality. Solidification involves blending liquid and sludge with absorbents to create solid waste and avoid groundwater contamination. Stabilization chemically alters the waste to ensure it meets requirements for landfill disposal.
At several stages in the waste management process, waste must sometimes be stored for a period of time. Whether the waste is stored at the facility, during transportation or during treatment, a business is responsible for making sure the waste is properly stored to avoid spills or environmental complications.
In a cradle-to-grave waste management approach, disposal is the “grave” of waste management. Waste is dumped into an appropriate landfill or burned for energy after having been treated. It is the responsibility of the waste generator to ensure that landfills accept their waste and are licensed to do so.
Adequate management of hazardous waste is a crucial component of any hazardous waste generating business. The cradle-to-grave waste management model means the generating company is responsible for all legal and financial liabilities if an error occurs at any stage of the waste disposal process.
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