Starter Tips for Understanding Hazardous Waste for Proper Handling and Disposal

Is your garbage safe to throw out in normal trash? While the majority of garbage can be safely disposed of in a landfill, there are certain exceptions to the rule. The most notable exception is that of hazardous waste. This type of waste can be quite dangerous or harmful if handled or disposed of incorrectly. Not all forms of hazardous waste are immediately recognizable and unfortunately are often disposed of in an unsafe manner. This brief guide explores some important tips about hazardous waste as a starter to hazardous waste understanding. Hazardous waste should always be handled and disposed of in the safest manner possible.

What is hazardous waste?

Hazardous waste can come in many different shapes and sizes, but by definition all hazardous waste has properties that involve risks of harmful or dangerous effects on the human body or the environment. Not all forms of hazardous waste will be instantly recognizable as a harmful substance. Hazardous waste can be defined as any item that places the handling individual or the environment as a whole at risk. As this definition can be quite vague, it stands to reason that the term “hazardous waste” can be applied to a wide variety of items. The most common forms of hazardous waste occur in an industrial setting. Corrosive chemicals, flammable liquids, and radioactive items all qualify as hazardous waste.

Hazardous waste items may not be dangerous, flammable or corrosive on their own, but are highly reactive and may become dangerous if mixed with another item. Smaller products for residential use may also be considered hazardous. Pesticides, paints, and many cleaning products are considered hazardous, despite the fact that they can be found in many households. Used needles and biohazard items are also deemed hazardous waste.

Categories of hazardous waste

Hazardous waste can be further categorized into four specific lists. Each list refers to the specific manufacturing processes and industries through which the waste item was produced. The main subcategories of listed waste are F, K, P, and, U waste.

F waste is produced from a nonspecific source, but is known to be generated through an industrial process that may occur in several different sectors of an industry.



Spent solvent wastes,

Electroplating and other metal finishing wastes,

Dioxin-bearing wastes,

Chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons production,

Wood preserving wastes,

Petroleum refinery wastewater treatment sludges, and

Multisource leachate (water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the constituents).


K waste does come from a specific source. Such waste is produced in a clearly identifiable industry, such as wood preservation or explosives manufacturing.


Wood preservation,

Organic chemicals manufacturing,

Pesticides manufacturing,

Petroleum refining,

Veterinary pharmaceuticals manufacturing,

Inorganic pigment manufacturing,

Inorganic chemicals manufacturing,

Explosives manufacturing,

Iron and steel production,

Primary aluminum production,

Secondary lead processing,

Ink formulation, and

Coking (processing of coal to produce coke).


The P and U lists designate as hazardous waste pure and commercial grade formulations of certain unused chemicals that are being disposed. The P-list identifies ACUTE hazardous wastes from discarded commercial chemical products. The U-list also identifies hazardous wastes from discarded commercial chemical products, but they are not considered acute.

For a waste to be considered a P- or U-listed waste it must meeting the following three criteria:

The waste must contain one of the chemicals listed on the P or U list;

the chemical in the waste must be unused; and

the chemical in the waste must be in the form of a commercial chemical product.

The EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) defines a commercial chemical product for P and U list purposes as a chemical that is either 100 percent pure, technical (e.g., commercial) grade, or the sole active ingredient in a chemical formulation.

Over 700 entries comprise the P-list and U-list. Over 200 in the P-list and over 400 in the U-list.

The P-list wastes can be found at 40 CFR section 261.33.

The U-list wastes can be found at 40 CFR section 261.33.

See also …

EPA | Defining Hazardous Waste: Listed, Characteristic and Mixed Radiological Wastes

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