How do you get undressed every day? Do you remove the used articles of clothing, ball them up, and throw them in the garbage bin? Probably not. That wouldn’t make nearly as much economic sense as laundering and reusing them. Most would agree that throwing out good clothing after one use because it was dirty and purchasing new clothes each time you needed to get dressed is an absurd concept.
The same absurdity has been happening regarding hazardous waste in companies everywhere.
Now that more recycling opportunities are available, companies are finding it possible to accomplish zero-waste initiatives with closed-loop recycling in highly sustainable processes.
This type of recycling system utilizes multiple hazardous waste streams, some of which would be headed to a landfill, but reuses them in highly productive ways saving valuable natural resources.
The absurdity is coming to an end.
The EPA’s Cradle-to-Grave Framework
When a company generates hazardous waste, RCRA elaborates on the proper and legal methods of proceeding. Using a “cradle-to-grave” framework, generators must consider the lifespan of its hazardous waste. The spirit of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act dictates that a generator must plan for the generation of the waste, the transportation of the waste, and the end-of-life of the waste. The purpose of the Act was to Conserve natural Resources and Recover all that could be recovered.
The EPA recommends this hierarchy:
This framework is meant to protect life and the environment from the effects of hazardous wastes. The problem, however, is that not all methods of disposal are equal, nor sustainable. Hazardous waste streams that are sent to landfills for instance will likely not be dealt with in this lifetime.
Hazardous Waste Landfills
All Treatment Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDF’s) including landfills and recycling facilities are regulated by RCRA Subtitle C. Before RCRA, landfills consisted of buried garbage that mixed municipal solid waste and hazardous waste.
Some of these old dumps still pollute surrounding soils and waters. Although toxic substances are sealed off from the environment in modern landfills, the substances within will always be harmful and will have the potential for leachate (hazardous liquid buildup that pools in the landfill) and released gas.
Landfill design is complicated and must account for the following:
- Site location
- Leachate liners
- Final landfill cap
- Leachate and gas collection
Even with the superb engineering of modern day hazardous waste landfills, once waste is in the landfill, waste with an organic base (most of it) will begin to decompose; this releases an increasing amount of gas for the next 20 years. Regulations require the gas, which primarily consists of a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, to be captured and treated or incinerated.
To recap, landfilling hazardous waste streams includes sealing and storing materials, transporting materials to locations where they will be sealed and stored, funding the operation of ensuring that these hazardous substances do not become unsealed or released, and funding the construction of treatment and storage of the leachate and gas waste that comes from the original hazardous waste.
Although landfill disposal was once the preferred method of handling “ALL” solid hazardous waste (because it was cheaper), companies are beginning to value a small carbon footprint.
Additionally, while there still is a necessary place for landfills, it is becoming clear that any opportunity to Reduce, Recycle, or Reuse hazardous waste in a sustainable fashion is preferred.
Closed-Loop Recycling: Providing True Sustainability
Developments in engineering and chemistry now give hazardous waste generators an option of managing hazardous waste streams in a more economical and environmentally conscious way.
One such example is the hazardous waste recycling process developed by Temarry Recycling located about 40 miles east of San Diego, CA in Tecate, Mexico. Temarry has been serving the Western U.S. for the past 19 years. Temarry combines solvent distillation, waste-to-energy and water treatment in a closed-loop process to offer “True Recycling” for industrial solvents, organic solids and water based hazardous waste.
By using hazardous waste streams (organic waste solids) previously earmarked for landfill or H061 cement kiln fuel blending in very distant locations, Temarry offers a truly sustainable recycling process to their customers.
Waste that was once destined for one of those old inefficient methods of disposal is now being converted to energy in the form of steam to recycle industrial solvents.
And more importantly, after using the energy to distill spent solvents, quality, reusable solvents are produced extending their usable life and can be marketed back into industry.
By-product (still bottoms) from the solvent distillation process is combined with ash from the waste-to-energy process. After extracting all of the valuable resources locally, the mixture is sent directly to cement kilns to be used as an alternative fuel.
The superiority of recycling is clear: Hazardous waste material will never be stored in a landfill as a problem to be solved by our great grandchildren. Just as we launder and clean our clothes to extend their life, so it can be with dirty spent solvents to achieve the maximum economic and environmental benefit.
Recycling isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.