Hazardous waste has many legal rules and regulations that govern how it can be handled, transported, and treated—and rightfully so. If those regulations weren’t in place, it could quickly lead to those hazardous materials being improperly disposed of. This would then lead to groundwater and soil contamination and people and animals in contact with that contamination potentially getting seriously ill. Regulations, therefore, are obviously put in place with safety in mind, and a large part of that safety component is the use of waste codes.
What Are Hazardous Waste Codes?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a list of these waste codes. These are alphanumeric labels that explain exactly what kind of hazardous waste is being handled, transported, or treated.
How These Codes Are Constructed
The codes vary according to the type of waste. For example, F listed codes encompass waste that’s hazardous and from nonspecific sources, while K listed codes are hazardous waste from specific sources. P listed codes pertain to discarded commercial chemical products deemed acutely hazardous, while U listed codes fall under the same umbrella but are considered toxic. P and U listed codes are most often associated with pharmaceuticals.
D listed codes are based on the waste’s characteristics, such as:
- D001: ignitable or flammable waste.
- D002: corrosive waste.
- D003: reactive waste.
- D004 through D043: toxic waste (can pertain to containing heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, and more).
A hazardous material can warrant a waste code either by virtue of its characteristics (it’s flammable, corrosive, etc.), or it can become hazardous due to the process it undergoes during manufacturing.
Why Are These Codes Important?
Coding hazardous materials offers a lot of benefits to a lot of different parties.
- A Universal Language
By talking about these hazardous materials in a standard, uniform language, it means anyone in the industry who comes across this waste knows exactly what it is. Even if two first responders don’t speak the same language, they will both understand immediately that the drum marked as D001 contains flammable materials.
- Increased Safety after Accidents
If something horrible happens, and this waste is involved in an accident during transport, having all the hazardous materials properly codified means first responders will know exactly what chemicals they’re dealing with and how to most safely proceed. For example, the type of waste will dictate if they need special personal protective gear. It will also alert them to how best to clean the spilled chemicals. All this leads to the safest, most efficient containment and cleaning of the accident and minimizes the negative environmental impact and danger presented to surrounding people and animals.
- Proper Treatment
One important reason for EPA hazardous waste codes is to aid the waste treatment facilities. When you write a profile of your waste, you identify all the chemicals it contains. In this way, the treatment facility knows exactly what it’s receiving and whether it’s set up to treat those particular hazardous elements.
Some treatment facilities can accept certain waste codes but not others, so these codes are a quick, easy, understandable language that lets the facility know whether it can legally and safely accept your waste.
Waste Management Companies and Your Liability
If the waste coming from your facility is not properly codified according to the EPA’s rules, you—as the generator of that waste—are responsible. If it goes to a treatment plant that can’t process that kind of waste and it ends up getting improperly disposed of, you, the generator, are responsible.
That’s why you should reach out to a waste management company if you’re unsure about any aspect of these hazardous codes. Misidentifying or mislabeling your waste can have real environmental consequences, and it can also come back to haunt you in the form of fines or other consequences.
Choose a waste management company that’s knowledgeable about these codes and the industry in general. The company should provide thorough answers to your questions and have many years in the business, because if they do it wrong, you’re still liable.
For more information about EPA waste codes or how a waste management company can help you use them correctly, please contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services.