What are the Different Methods for Recycling Hazardous Waste?

Daniel Liden

There are many different methods used for recycling hazardous waste — the specific method used is often based on the kind of waste in question. Hazardous waste recycling is the process of reusing or reclaiming hazardous wastes. Hazardous waste is defined as waste that has the potential to harm people, wildlife, or the environment. Some kinds of hazardous wastes can be directly reused for some purpose, such as for fuel or fertilizers. Others must be broken down and put through a reclamation process, such as a chemical process, before they can be reused. Hazardous waste can be generated from many different sources ranging from heavy industry to day-to-day household product use.

Radioactive waste is usually buried in hermetically sealed containers.
Radioactive waste is usually buried in hermetically sealed containers.

Sometimes, recycling hazardous waste is as easy as directly using the waste product as a fuel of some sort. Many solvents used in industry and in science, for example, are burned as fuel after they have served their original purpose. Many governments and other organizations, however, restrict such methods of recycling hazardous waste because they often generate many harmful pollutants. Groups who wish to burn hazardous wastes as a method of recycling generally need to acquire a permit before they are legally able to proceed.

Broken computer monitors should be dropped off at an electronic waste recycling center because of hazardous components.
Broken computer monitors should be dropped off at an electronic waste recycling center because of hazardous components.

Another method of recycling hazardous waste is called constituting disposal. Constituting disposal refers to the practice of reintegrating hazardous waste into the environment in some way. Hazardous wastes, for example, can be incorporated into some fertilizers or into asphalt. The challenges associated with this method are clear; many kinds of hazardous wastes are defined as hazardous because they are harmful to the environment. This method of recycling hazardous waste is also heavily restricted because of the possibility of environmental contamination.

One method of recycling hazardous waste that is regulated considerably less than others is hazardous waste reclamation, in which a hazardous waste product is put through a process that makes it usable again. On a small scale, for example, mercury can be retrieved from mercury barometers and re-used either for the same purpose or for another purpose. Other chemical wastes can be put through chemical reactions that essentially recharge them and make them usable again.

Household hazardous wastes are another important concern. Batteries, paint, oil, cleaning products, and many other household products can result in hazardous waste products of some form or another. Many communities have programs for recycling hazardous waste that people have in their homes. Some, for example, have locations where people can drop off used batteries for recycling. Some communities even have recycling centers that take waste ranging from broken computers and phones to damaged cars and paint.

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Discussion Comments


A lot of people don't know about household hazardous waste recycling. They think that just because a product is readily available, it must be safe to put it down the sink or in the garbage. Not so!

The best option, of course, is to use these products up completely. If that isn't possible for you - for instance, maybe you have paint thinner eft over after finishing a project, or you need to get rid of a cleaning product that a household member found irritating - try to give away the rest of the bottle. Someone else may be able to use it

When those methods fail, then it's time to see what resources your community has available. Some collect household hazardous waste regularly, while others have special collection days. It can be annoying to hold on to items waiting for these collection days, but it is worthwhile!

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