“Fire” is a worst-case scenario in many applications or locations: on airplanes and spaceships, in chemical factories, and laboratories. The pure destructive power of fire is unrivaled by most other forces in nature, which is why it’s so important to be careful about the disposal of flammable liquids.
Unfortunately, too many companies are clueless about how to go about doing that. If that describes you, don’t worry...You’re not alone. The disposal of flammable liquids is far from an intuitive science, and becomes even more complicated when you add in container type, ignition sources, saturated materials and more.
We’re here to provide you with a guide to help you tackle flammable liquids. Let’s take it one step at a time, and by the end, we can guarantee you’ll have a much more thorough understanding of how to deal with dangerous liquids.
1. Storing Flammable Liquids Properly
First and foremost, it’s crucial that you set up proper procedures about how and where to store flammable liquids. For one thing, containers should always be well out of the way, never blocking stairwells or exits and always located in a safe, secure location. Most local regulations require a fire-proof storage cabinet.
Resist the temptation to dispose of “small amounts” simply by pouring them down the drain or throwing them away in containers. Additionally, make sure you are using the right types of containers as listed by your regulatory body. In our article, about the solvent distillation process, we outline how we can recover energy from flammable liquids.
2. Proper Labeling of Containers
Flammable liquid waste containers must be labeled properly. That means noting:
- The start date of accumulation
- The type of liquid
- The Hazard Class 3 flammable logo (a raging fire)
- Additional information on a Hazardous Waste label mandated by your state/local authorities
You must label containers as soon as the waste goes in. Otherwise, you create the potential of leaving unlabeled hazardous waste around, which is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.
3. Types of Flammable Liquids
Many types of liquids are flammable, but among the most common are:
- Rubbing alcohol
- Paint thinner and turpentine
- Lighter fluid
- Aerosol cans
- Linseed oil
There are many others as well, which is why it’s so important to know the chemical composition and possible reaction of all materials with which you work.
4. Possible Ignition Sources
An ignition source is a vector that carries the possibility of setting the flammable liquid on fire. Ignition sources are many but may include:
- Sparks from electrical tools, welding tools and machinery
- Cigarettes and cigars
- Open flames from torches, pilot lights or heating units
- Hot surfaces (i.e. furnaces or boilers)
- Embers or sparks from incinerators or fire
- Static electricity
- Sparks from grinding or crushing other materials
Note that flammable liquid containers must be properly sealed to avoid the possibility of their releasing vapors. Off gassing from liquids can mean volatile compounds in the air, which are also capable of catching a spark and igniting.
5. How Do Dispose of Flammable Liquids Safely
The safest way to dispose of flammable liquids is to place them in the correct containers; label them immediately and on an ongoing basis so that everyone knows what they contain; keep them away from ignition sources and out of the way of workers; and schedule regular pickups from a waste management company. Frequency is often determined by the amounts of all hazardous waste you generate in a given month.
Also, ensure you’re working with a company whose protocol you trust. It’s a good to find out you’ve been sending your waste to an organization that does what you’ve been paying money not to do: simply throw flammable liquids away. Before you sign on with a company, make sure they follow best practices for the disposal of flammable liquids in a sustainable way, often designated by codes. This may mean partnering with a company like Temarry Recycling, who recycles solvents.
6. Saturated Materials Disposal
Sometimes flammable liquids aren’t merely in liquid form, but have soaked into fibrous materials. These materials are now known as “saturated,” and can present just as serious a hazard as flammable liquids – in some cases more, because they provide fodder to burn.
Flammable solid material, such as rags and debris, should be accumulated in separate containers from flammable liquids. The proper label is a 4.1 hazard class label that, like flammable liquid, shows an energetic flame.
7. Best Practices for Handling Flammable Liquids
Sometimes you have to move flammable liquids from one place to another in your facility. This can present dangers, because you may bring containers into areas where ignition sources are present.
When you have to handle flammable liquids for stacking, transportation or storage, make sure everyone knows what you’re doing. Create a clear space and halt work while you move liquids through an area, even if no known ignition sources are present. Make sure the liquid has been placed in the correct container before transport. Create documentation so you can refer back to it in the event of a mishap for emergency responders.
At the end of the day, disposing of flammable liquids is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, it requires careful attention to safety and detail, so this may present a challenge to companies at the outset. However, the methods for proper disposal are also reliable and relatively unchanging, which means once you understand the requirements and create a routine, you’re good to go – especially if you partner with a reputable waste management and recycling company.