Whether you’re dealing with a broken beaker, discarded slides, or a used syringe barrel, hazardous glass and plastic waste should be categorized and disposed of according to its type and use. Though such items often appear harmless, the truth can be alarming, especially in healthcare or pharmaceutical industries. The process for safe hazardous glass and plastic disposal starts with proper identification.

01   /   Defining Hazardous Glass and Plastics

Hazardous glass and plastics are often found in medical or university laboratories, healthcare facilities, and a number of industrial business sectors. The first step toward safe and compliant disposal processes is to know the laws of the federal government and your state. 

A hazardous waste, per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one that has certain properties that might be dangerous or have the potential to negatively affect human health or the environment. Knowledge regarding such wastes are the responsibility of hazardous waste generators and it is vital to follow regulations to maintain compliance and safety.

Be aware that hazardous waste plastics and glass often involves those found in academic labs and in pharmaceutical development, but can also include any industry that uses or makes plastics that, if not disposed of properly, can release toxic chemicals into the environment and endanger human health.

Anything from broken lab pipettes to used syringes must be disposed of safely. New classifications appear on the EPA’s list of hazardous materials so it is important to stay up-to-date on such rulings.

All potential hazardous waste generators should review the Code of Federal Regulations Title 40 – Protection of Environment. Pay particular attention to Sections 261.2 through 261.9, which cover topics such as:


Definition of solid waste


Definition of hazardous waste


Requirements for recyclable materials


Residues of hazardous waste in empty containers


PCB wastes regulated under Toxic Substance Control Act

Safe handling of such items is especially important for any employees who come into contact with such wastes.

02   /   How Should Hazardous Glass be Handled?

Before you can properly dispose of your hazardous glass waste, you must first ensure all your disposal items have been adequately identified. The most common types of laboratory glass waste include pipettes, slides, plastic ware, syringe bodies, and any broken containers.

Hazardous glass and plastic waste should never be placed directly into the trashcan or other garbage receptacles. Because of the high risk of contamination, specially designed containers should be used. Plastic-lined cardboard boxes that are sturdy and leak proof are the best options.

When preparing your container for collection, make sure the contents are appropriately labeled and that all seams are sealed with heavy-duty tape. Limit the weight of your waste collection containers to 20 pounds, and only include materials have been properly rinsed and dried. Some states and their universities have their own guidelines. For example, Washington State University suggests that the weight limit for disposal of glass not exceed 40 pounds (includes glass weight and container weight). Appropriate labels must also be placed on disposal containers.

When dealing with broken glass, make sure to use gloves and safety glasses.

03   /   How Should Hazardous Plastics be Handled?

Handling hazardous plastics also requires attention to details. The EPA provides a document titled, ‘Proper Handling of Hazardous Waste’ that should be familiar to all hazardous waste generators, regardless of industry or facility. Another useful document is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act manual titled ‘RCRA Orientation Manual’ that can be accessed here. 

Plastics and glass are defined as solid waste, and as such some of that waste can be recycled under certain conditions. Plastic wastes take on numerous forms, from bottles to jars to various sizes of containers to wrappings and lids. 

Empty chemical containers, for example, can sometimes be recycled if they have been used for nontoxic buffers, sugars or cleaning products as long as they are completely rinsed and no chemical residue remains. Others will require decontamination or some form of sterilization to render any dangerous components inert prior to recycling efforts or choosing the proper disposal site for such waste.

The EPA has encouraged recycling of plastics as long as those plastics have been rendered safe for regeneration. Steps to determine whether recycling of an industrial hazardous waste is possible can be found on the EPA’s website here.

As with glass, plastic waste must be carefully segregated as close to it point of origin as possible, between hazardous and non-hazardous to not only save on disposal costs, but to ensure health and safety. State policies may also apply, which can also be accessed on the EPA website.

04   /   Safe Labeling for Storage and Transport

All containers should be clearly marked with the contents, date of packaging, and other essential information. Until the waste is collected, it should be stored in a separate area – ideally, a different room or building – and must be collected within a 48-72 hour window depending on the time of year and local climate conditions. 

The storage area should be clean and impermeable, with easy access to water, cleaning equipment, and protective clothing. Security monitoring is a must not only to prevent unauthorized access but to also ensure animals and insects do not breach the collection perimeter.

05   /   Get Help from the Experts

Unsure where to begin? Confused about the types of materials you have on-site? Worried about compliance and accurate record keeping? Whether you know what you need or are just starting out, we can help. MCF Environmental Services provides experienced waste management solutions, with decades of experience and knowledge within the hazardous waste industry. From required paperwork to the latest rules and regulations, we employ a team of expert problem solvers to avoid problems before they start.

For cradle-to-grave hazardous waste management services, contact us today to learn more about how our organization can help streamline your waste management processes and enhance your business operations.

Robert Losurdo

President, COO