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Proper Waste Disposal


Robert M. Rioux and Taslima A. Zaman, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania, PA

Users are responsible for the proper disposal of the waste generated during their work. Improper waste disposal may severely endanger public health and/or the environment. The handling of hazardous waste must be regulated from the moment of generation until its disposal at its offsite final destination facility. A waste management system must be devised before work begins on any laboratory activity. Users must comply with the rules and regulations of their institute's Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) office, which develops and implements proper waste management systems satisfying diverse regulations and standards, such as those imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).


Proper waste disposal begins with good waste management by the researcher, including minimum waste generation, reusing surplus materials, and recycling of appropriate (i.e., uncontaminated) waste. The generated waste must be properly collected and stored, paying close attention to labeling, segregating according to chemical compatibility, and accumulating in a well-ventilated location. This location should be well labeled. Other laboratory waste items such as sharps and glass must also be disposed of with care in appropriately labeled and compatible containers.

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1. Waste Management

  1. Users should make an effort to keep waste to a minimum. The best way to do so is by reducing the scale of operation, which minimizes the quantity of waste generated. Whenever possible, chemicals used should be substituted with less hazardous chemicals.
  2. Chemical quantities should be kept to a minimum. Store only what will be used in the near term.
  3. Besides preventing or minimizing waste generation, chemicals should be recycled or recovered for reuse.
  4. When waste is generated, it must be disposed of properly. Sink disposal may not always be appropriate and may end contaminating drinking water. Alternative methods of disposal should be considered including incineration, treatment, and land disposal. The institute's EHS office should be consulted to determine the proper disposal method for different waste types.

2. Waste Collection and Storage

  1. When generating or managing any chemical waste, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn, and engineering controls should be implemented as necessary.
  2. Collect and store chemical waste at or near the point of generation in a designated satellite accumulation area. This accumulation area should be well marked for easy identification.
  3. Chemical waste must be stored in compatible containers with closed and properly fitted caps.
  4. Waste containers must be labeled mentioning chemical compositions, the accumulation start date, and hazard warnings as appropriate. The institute's EHS office typically provides these required labels.
  5. Incompatible waste types should not be mixed and should be kept separate in order to avoid any reaction, heat generation, and/or gas evolution.
  6. Waste containers should be stored in secondary containers in a ventilated, cool, and dry area.
  7. In the central accumulation area, waste containers should be grounded to avoid fire and explosion hazards.
  8. Trained laboratory researchers who are most familiar with the waste generated should work with EHS to ensure proper waste management.

3. Sharps Disposal - Syringes and Needles

  1. Chemically contaminated needles, syringes, and razor blades should be disposed of inside a proper sharps container.
  2. Syringes or needles must never be disposed of in a laboratory waste bin or a general waste container.

4. Glass Recycling

  1. Recycling glass is friendly to the environment as it reduces pollution caused by the waste ending up in landfill sites. Every laboratory should have a separate recycling bin dedicated to glass.
  2. Clean empty glass bottles and broken glassware may be recycled. To clean an empty glass bottle, it must be "triple rinsed" with water or another suitable solvent and air-dried before disposal.
  3. Chemically contaminated laboratory glassware such as sample tubes, droppers, and glass wool must be disposed of as controlled waste.

Hazardous waste, whether chemical, medical or radioactive, is generated in many laboratories and requires regulated disposal to ensure safety of public health and the environment.

The regulation of hazardous waste handling must be enforced from the moment of generation until its disposal at an offsite final destination facility.

Prior to commencing any laboratory activity, a waste management system must be devised. This is often established by an institute's Environmental Health and Safety, or EH&S, office, which enforces guidelines imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

This video will illustrate the principles and typical laboratory procedures of proper waste disposal.

Efficient waste management is an important aspect of proper waste disposal. This can be accomplished by using the minimal amount of chemicals possible, by reusing surplus materials, and by recycling waste.

The generated waste must be labeled, segregated according to chemical compatibility, and stored in a fume hood or other well ventilated area. Other laboratory waste, such as sharps and glass, must be disposed with care in appropriate containers.

Now that we have discussed the principles of proper waste disposal, let's look at an actual procedure.

If applicable, keep chemical waste to a minimum by reducing the scale of operation. Furthermore, substitute chemicals with less hazardous reagents whenever possible.

In addition to minimizing the scale of operation, store only chemical quantities that will be used in the near term. You can also reduce chemical waste by recycling solvents like acetone, using a distillation.

Wear proper personal protective equipment including a lab coat, goggles, and gloves, as well as long pants and closed-toed shoes, whenever handling any chemical waste.

Collect chemical waste in suitable containers such as plastic carboys or glass bottles, and store near the point of generation in a designated satellite accumulation area.

Affix labels to the waste containers as soon as chemicals are added. Write on the labels the full names of the chemicals and their approximate compositions.

Additionally, use separate containers for halogenated, nonhalogenated, and aqueous waste to avoid potential heat or gas formation. When the containers are filled to capacity, carefully move them to a designated central accumulation area, from which they will be removed for disposal.

Dispose of chemically contaminated needles, syringes and razor blades, collectively known as sharps, inside of a sharps waste container.

For broken glass, used pipettes or test tubes, use a specialized glass waste container. If desired, empty bottles can be reused after triple rising with acetone, water, and again acetone.

You've just watched JoVE's introduction to proper waste disposal. You should now understand waste management, how to collect chemical and sharps waste, and how to store it for disposal. Thanks for watching!

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Applications and Summary

In this document, a basic guideline for laboratory waste disposal is provided. Users must work and comply with their institute's EHS office to determine the proper method for waste disposal satisfying diverse regulations and standards. The laboratory user should be cognizant of what waste material is being generated and hazards present should be carefully assessed to determine proper waste disposal, which may otherwise put public health or the environment in danger. No matter how small or large a waste quantity is handled, proper PPE must be worn.

Contaminant Maximum Contaminant Level, mg/L
1,1-Dichloroethylene 0.007
1,1,1-Trichloroethane 0.2
1,1,2-Trichloroethane 0.005
1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP) 0.0002
1,2-Dichloroethane 0.005
1,2-Dichloropropane 0.005
1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene 0.07
2,4-D 0.07
2,4,5-TP (Silvex) 0.05
Alachlor 0.002
Antimony 0.006
Arsenic 0.010 as of 01/23/06
Asbestos (fiber > 10 micrometers) 7
Atrazine 0.003
Barium 2
Benzene 0.005
Benzo(a)pyrene (PAHs) 0.0002
Beryllium 0.004
Bromate 0.01
Cadmium 0.005
Carbofuran 0.04
Carbon tetrachloride 0.005
Chloramines (as Cl2) 4
Chlordane 0.002
Chlorine (as Cl2) 4
Chlorine dioxide (as ClO2) 0.8
Chlorite 1
Chlorobenzene 0.1
Chromium (total) 0.1
cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene 0.07
Cyanide (as free cyanide) 0.2
Dalapon 0.2
Di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate 0.4
Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate 0.006
Dichloromethane 0.005
Dinoseb 0.007
Dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD) 0.00000003
Diquat 0.02
Endothall 0.1
Endrin 0.002
Ethylbenzene 0.7
Ethylene dibromide 0.00005
Fluoride 4
Glyphosate 0.7
Haloacetic acids (HAA5) 0.06
Heptachlor 0.0004
Heptachlor epoxide 0.0002
Hexachlorobenzene 0.001
Hexachlorocyclopentadiene 0.05
Lindane 0.0002
Mercury (inorganic) 0.002
Methoxychlor 0.04
Nitrate (measured as Nitrogen) 10
Nitrite (measured as Nitrogen) 1
o-Dichlorobenzene 0.6
Oxamyl (Vydate) 0.2
p-Dichlorobenzene 0.075
Pentachlorophenol 0.001
Picloram 0.5
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) 0.0005
Selenium 0.05
Simazine 0.004
Styrene 0.1
Tetrachloroethylene 0.005
Thallium 0.002
Toluene 1
Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) 0.08
Toxaphene 0.003
trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene 0.1
Trichloroethylene 0.005
Vinyl chloride 0.002
Xylenes (total) 10

Table 1. Table of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants. Obtained from US Environmental Protection Agency website at https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/table-regulated-drinking-water-contaminants

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  1. Occupational Health and Safety [OSHA] (Standard - 1910.1450 App A). at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10107
  2. Princeton University Environmental Health Safety Empty Chemical Container Management at https://ehs.princeton.edu/environmental-programs/waste-management/empty-chemical-container-management
  3. US Environmental Protection Agency Table of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants at https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/table-regulated-drinking-water-contaminants



Waste Disposal Hazardous Waste Regulated Disposal Waste Management System EH&S Office OSHA Guidelines Proper Waste Disposal Procedures Efficient Waste Management Chemical Compatibility Fume Hood Well-ventilated Area Sharps Disposal Glass Disposal Reducing Chemical Waste Less Hazardous Reagents

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