What is Chemical Waste Management?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Chemical waste management is a branch of the waste management field involved with addressing chemical waste, ranging from photography chemicals used in home darkrooms to chemical byproducts of manufacturing. If chemical waste is released into the environment, it can cause a number of problems which can impact environmental and human health, ranging from explosions caused by unexpected reactions to pollution of waterways which causes fish to die.

One aspect of chemical waste management is removal of hazardous chemical waste.
One aspect of chemical waste management is removal of hazardous chemical waste.

Chemical waste can take a number of forms. People are sometimes surprised to learn that some household waste is technically considered chemical waste, and technically should not be disposed of in regular garbage. While people may not think of things like a partially used bottle of hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol as dangerous, these waste products are in fact chemical waste, because they can contribute to problems if they are disposed of in a conventional landfill. Essentially, this type of waste includes any chemicals which are active or potentially dangerous.

Federal and local laws require specific procedures for disposing of chemical waste at manufacturing plants.
Federal and local laws require specific procedures for disposing of chemical waste at manufacturing plants.

As with all branches of the waste management field, the primary goal of chemical waste management is to reduce the production of chemical waste, thereby cutting down on the amount of material which needs to be handled. Proper handling of chemical waste in the area where it is generated is important, as are containment and storage while the waste waits for pickup by a company which is authorized to handle chemicals. Chemical waste management also includes long-term solutions for chemical waste which are designed to destroy, neutralize, or secure chemical waste so that it is no longer dangerous.

Many waste management companies offer chemical waste management services to their customers. Households can take advantage of periodic hazardous materials pickups to safely get rid of chemical waste, while companies which routinely generate chemical waste can get a chemical waste management contract. The contract may include storage containers and identification tags for chemical waste in addition to regularly scheduled pickups of chemical waste.

Another aspect of chemical waste management is cleanup and removal of chemical waste. In the wake of a chemical spill, for example, waste management professionals are part of the response team which tries to contain and clean up the spill. Chemical waste professionals are also involved in environmental remediation of sites which have been contaminated by chemical waste, as in the instance of a former factory site which has unsecured chemical waste on the premises which must be addressed before the site can be cleared for general use.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Oh no! I've thrown out rubbing alcohol with regular trash before too!

I don't know anything about the chemical management services in my city. Shouldn't the city inform us about how and where to dispose of them? How can I find out about this?


@alisha-- I don't disagree with you and I think we all would want the utopia you are describing. But in reality, I don't think it's going to happen.

I think we have to accept that chemicals are really cheap and very few industries would be willing to switch to something that is environmentally friendly and super expensive. I think the public would be dissatisfied too because products would double and triple in price and we wouldn't be able to afford it anymore.

I think that improving chemical waste management technologies and processes is a much better idea. I don't think that all of them are too difficult, their cost is arguable.

For example, you must have heard about the bacteria used to clean up chemical spills. I think that's a great way to manage waste. We don't have a type of bacteria that can eat away every kind of chemical waste. But if we work on it, I'm sure we can get there.


I think that chemical waste is a huge long-term problem. The waste that we are producing right now future generations are going to be stuck with because as far as I know, these chemicals remain in the soil for thousands of years.

I think the only real solution is to stop producing so much chemical waste. I know that most of it comes from industry and big changes would have to be made there. I personally try and pitch in by using all natural and environmentally safe products at home for cleaning.

This is the only way to manage chemical waste for the long term. Cleanup of chemical waste is not easy and cannot be the solution. We have to go to the root of the problem which is the production and use of these chemicals in the first place.

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