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The Mysterious Journeys of Hazardous Waste

The Mysterious Journeys of Hazardous Waste

It sounds like a book title straight off the best seller’s table at Waterstones.

In fact, this article is all about the end-of-life process for certain hazardous wastes.

 

Hazardous waste and the need for integrity

There’s a ‘black door’ in the waste industry that many are afraid to talk about, and even more are not interested in learning about. This black door refers to everything that hides behind what the common person sees when recycling. Once the recycling lorry has been and emptied the bins, it’s forgotten about, it’s gone, it’s the black door. Well, not for us.

Behind the black door, that’s where we really get to work! The problem is, some of our competitors are using the lack of visibility to practice shady tricks, like fly tipping. We aren’t happy about this, but fortunately, it’s a minority or unlicensed or ill-intentioned businesses who try and damage the good name of environmental services.

 

Our approach is different

Here at Enviro Waste, we handle a large number of hazardous waste jobs ourselves, but since we are partnered with specialists for certain waste types, we hand some of the jobs over to them to make sure that things are done as efficiently as possible. We may not be the cheapest solution for hazardous waste, but that’s actually a good thing. Those with the cheapest prices could be taking the worst shortcuts and doing all the wrong things to drive that price down. Our higher pricing allows us to put the environment first, protect the local community, support the local economy, contribute to excellent projects like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Woodland Trust, give the higher quality of customer service and account management, and offer the most comprehensive and unique solutions for our valued customers.

 

One size doesn’t fit all of the hazardous waste

Quite often, the big mistake with hazardous waste is actually calling it hazardous waste. By classifying it all under the same term, it creates the illusion that all hazardous waste can be treated the same, which is sadly not true. Different measures and precautions must be taken for each waste type, and this means that being offered a cheap and quick fix should alert you that something isn’t quite right.

Intelligent hazardous waste management services are transparent, create awareness and give education to those businesses and residence with the issue. We don’t like the black door, we want to keep it open so that you know what happens. Once that black door shuts, you are out of the loop. The most responsible commercial customers we work with are willing to pay more for engaging solutions, as they are often not the waste generator and are outsourcing their needs to us. When the supply chain is keen to learn and improve, you know you are in good hands.

With all of that being said, we think it’s very important that we highlight exactly what is meant by hazardous waste by providing some examples. We’ve put together the end-of-life journeys for two different hazardous wastes; fluorescent tubes, and batteries.

 

Fluorescent tubes

The danger with fluorescent tubes, and the reason they are considered hazardous is the mercury vapour content, which can have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. It is also hugely dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn children. It’s one of the top 10 most dangerous elements according to the World Health Organisation.

 

Chucking fluorescent tubes in the landfill is a risk we are not willing to take. Just one gram of mercury can contaminate a billion litres of water, and whilst landfills do quite well to contain their contents and avoid leakage – they are not foolproof.

 

The fluorescent tube recycling process:

  • We discuss your quantities and conditions of fluorescent tubes
  • We send out a collection team with specialist health and safety equipment to take your fluorescent tubes
  • For customers regularly producing this hazardous waste type, we can provide specialist bins or containers
  • Collected tubes go to our recycling facility, or a refuted partner
  • Metal and glass are stripped out of the tubes for their own recycling process
  • The phosphorus powder that remains, and contains the mercury, goes into a distilling tank, where it is turned into vapour, and then condensed back into high-quality mercury metal
  • The glass, metal and plastic components get sold to recycling companies, the phosphorus powder is sold to bulb manufacturers for production, and the mercury goes back to producers too, creating a circular economy loop

 

It really is as simple as that, so, next time you have fluorescent tube waste (which shouldn’t be that often as they last for 15,000 hours) just remember that there is a chance to dispose of them sustainably, and that companies like ourselves will make it happen.

 

Recycling batteries

We all know that batteries are harmful, which is why as kids we are told to be warm of them, not to lick them or put them near our eyes. What most people don’t know is that almost all batteries can be recycled, such as:

  • AAA, AA, C, D, 9V and Button Batteries
  • Car Batteries
  • Laptop Batteries
  • Phone & Camera Batteries
  • Industrial Batteries

 

The sad thing is that more than 90% of batteries don’t get recycled, and perhaps millions of dead batteries sit in drawers around the nation because people don’t know what to do with them. For consumer batteries, you can find deposit boxes at your local recycling centre. When it comes to the bigger batteries, it’s best to call an expert, like ourselves.

So, here’s what happens to batteries:

  1. We discuss your battery waste needs
  2. For small batteries, we can provide you with a jar to collect them, until there’s enough to warrant recycling
  3. For larger batteries, like car batteries, we will provide you with a collection bin which is charged based on the capacity
  4. When the bins or jars are full, you call us and we take them away for recycling

Battery recycling process

The process depends completely on what type of battery is being recycled, but essentially for commercial batteries, a hammer mill smashes the battery into tiny pieces, which are placed in a vat full of liquid chemicals. The plastic floats, while the metals fall to the bottom. The plastic (polypropylene) is taken away for recycling, while the metal and lead are further separated into different waste streams. Lead is smelted into ingots which are sold back to the battery manufacturing industry.

Battery acid can be recycled into sodium sulphate, an odourless and white powder that’s used in laundry powder, glass and textile. It can also be neutralised and turned into water. For Nickel and Lithium batteries, the process is slightly different, but a lot more complicated to explain in short.

 

Other materials

Every waste type has its own journey to take, and that could change week by week depending on markets and volatility, availability of recycling centres, factories, and specialists.  Even the weather can play a role (just ask cardboard recyclers!).

At Enviro Waste, we make sure the journey, whatever it may be, and wherever it may lead, is managed responsibly, and that goes for all of the hazardous or difficult-to-recycle items, such as:

  • Paints
  • Chemicals
  • Oils
  • Toner Cartridges
  • Old TV and Computer monitors

 

Conclusion

Just because something is difficult to recycle, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We are keen to prove to our customers that to be responsible and sustainable doesn’t mean actively trying to save the Earth, but instead making positive changes with the human and financial resources at your disposal. If you took the responsibility to use these hazardous items, you may well want to consider taking the responsibility to have them disposed of properly too.

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