Hazardous waste is legally defined as solid waste with the potential to harm humans or the environment. This kind of waste has to be taken care of very carefully for safety reasons, and there are special regulations related to handling and disposing it. Most hazardous wastes are poisonous in some way, but some are classified as hazardous because they are flammable or explosive. A lot of hazardous waste comes from industrial processes, and increased regulation has generally led to a reduction in the amount produced.
The protection agencies define four primary kinds of hazardous waste. The first type is called “listed wastes," and that basically means that they come from industrial or scientific processes, and the agencies have protocols to deal with them. “Universal wastes” are found in everyday items like batteries. “Characteristic wastes” are similar to listed wastes, but they aren’t as well-documented, and “mixed wastes” are generally radioactive materials combined with other waste components.
The vast majority of hazardous materials come from businesses, and some aren’t actually big industrial companies. For example, auto repair shops produce a lot of hazardous waste, as do hospitals. Generally speaking, companies that produce hazardous waste products are required by law to dispose of them in an appropriate manner and protect the public from exposure. Businesses that violate these rules can be subject to legal repercussions, including private lawsuits and government prosecutions.
In the early 1990s, laws were passed that made it illegal to use regular landfills for disposal of hazardous substances. The only exception was in cases where the waste had been chemically treated to make it less harmful. There has generally been a fair amount of industrial resistance to these kinds of laws, because they can raise manufacturing costs, but that has lessened over time as more efficient disposal methods have come to the market. Some companies have found ways to recycle hazardous waste products and turn them into useful substances, while others destroy the waste with incineration procedures and similar methods.
The average person can produce significant hazardous materials in her own home. For example, pesticides used in a person’s garden can be classified as hazardous waste, and certain cleaning products are potentially very dangerous. One of the main sources of household hazardous waste comes from the automobile and various items used to maintain it. Gasoline, oil, antifreeze, and battery acid are all byproducts of automotive maintenance, and they can pose a significant risk.