Chemical Waste: Examples, Impact, Storage, Labeling & Disposal

Chemical waste is a waste that is made from harmful chemicals (mostly produced by large factories). Chemical waste may fall under regulations such as COSHH in the United Kingdom, or the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in the United States. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as state and local regulations also regulate chemical use and disposal.

It is a broad term and encompasses many types of materials. Consult your Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), Product Data Sheet or Label for a list of constituents. These sources will tell you if you have a chemical waste that needs special disposal.

Examples of Chemical Waste

  • Unused and surplus reagent grade chemicals
  • Intermediates and by-products generated from research & educational experiments
  • Batteries
  • Anything contaminated by chemicals
  • Used oil of all types
  • Spent solvents – Including water based
  • Mercury containing items
  • Photographic film processing solutions and chemicals
  • Pesticides
  • Non-returnable gas cylinders
  • Non-empty aerosol cans
  • Chemically contaminated sharps
  • Finely divided powders
  • Contaminated syringes, needles, GC syringes, razor blades, pasteur pipettes, pipette tips
  • Equipment and apparatus containing hazardous waste
  • Computer/electronic equipment
  • Toner cartridges
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Paints – both oil and latex
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
  • Light ballasts
  • Preserved specimens
  • Custodial and industrial cleaners
  • Uncured Resins(Phenolic, Epoxy, Styrene, etc.)
  • Dye and glazes
  • Degreasing solvents
  • Brake/Transmission/Power Steering Fluids

Read Also: Biomedical Waste Management; Treatment & Disposal

Impact of Chemical Waste 

If it is improperly managed, it may pollute and contaminate water streams. There are many causes of this type of industrial water pollution, which has both serious and negative impacts on aquatic and human life.

The Damage Caused by Chemical Waste & Pollution

The Ecosystem: When polluted water makes its way into important water resources it becomes unfit for consumption and purpose. In the developed world this is problematic and expensive to fix – even taking years. In the developing world, this can have a detrimental effect on communities as there may be difficulty getting clean drinking water.

Thermal Pollution: Aquatic and marine life are very sensitive to the condition and temperature of water bodies. Thermal pollution can happen when harmful chemicals are deposited at the bottom of a water body. Over time, this can cause serious health issues for people living nearby, animals and marine life.

Increase in Nutrients: Also known as eutrophication, excess nutrients cause algae bloom which reduces the oxygen levels in water. This, in turn, causes large-scale algae loss. The ability of the water body to support aquatic life is reduced.

Murkiness: Murky water stops the sunlight reaching bottom level plants and can block fish gills causing disease and death to aquamarine life. Murky water doesn’t just mean floating sediment, quite often it is a warning sign for a more serious problem.

Biomagnification: This can affect animals higher in the food chain i.e. humans. Increased levels of toxic substances can cause genetic defects, disease, headaches, nausea and many more issues that can seriously impact human life.


There are specific requirements for packaging:

  • Never mix incompatible materials together in a single container.
  • Wastes must be stored in containers compatible with the chemicals stored. For example, hydrofluoric acid waste must not be stored in glass containers, corrosive chemicals must not be stored in metal containers, etc.
  • Solvent safety cans should to be used to collect and temporarily store large volumes (10-20 litres) of flammable organic waste solvents. The researcher is responsible for providing these cans to the laboratory. Cans submitted for disposal will be emptied and returned promptly to the laboratory, provided that they are properly identified with the building and laboratory room number.
  • Do not insert precipitates, solids or other non-fluid wastes into safety cans.
  • Package halogenated and non-halogenated solvents separately, if possible.  The University pays a premium for disposing of halogenated solvents (e.g., chloroform, carbon tetrachloride).
  • Do not package solid chemical waste into biohazard bags, because this incorrectly indicates a hazard that is not present.
  • Buildings with Central Waste Storage will have drums for contaminated glass and plastic where lab staff can empty their containers into.


There are specific requirements for labelling chemical waste:

  • Attach a Chemical Waste label directly to the waste container. Chemical waste labels are available free of charge from EHS staff.
  • All information requested on the Chemical Waste Label should be provided.  Chemical generic names of the chemicals must be listed. No abbreviations, acronyms or trade mark names are to be used. Vague categories (e.g., solvent waste) are not acceptable.


There are specific requirements for storing chemical waste:

  • Waste chemicals should be stored in the central waste-holding facility of the building. Should such a facility be unavailable, the chemical waste should be temporarily stored in the generator’s laboratory.
  • All safety precautions required for handling and storage of chemicals will also be observed for generated wastes.
  • Waste should be segregated according to compatibility groups such as acids, bases, flammables, oxidizers and water reactives and not according to alphabetical order.
  • Dispose of aging containers promptly. Some chemicals are time sensitive and may degrade into very hazardous by-products; e.g.,ethers may degrade to form explosive organic peroxides.

Read Also: Pathological Waste; How it is Collected, Treated & Disposed

Chemical Waste cannot be disposed in just any dumping site or trash can because of the health/environmental implications it could pose. Hence, a well planned disposal principles is always followed.

Contact your local authority to find out the procedures to follow in disposing your chemical waste.

However, if you are in the United States, here is how to go about disposing your chemical waste –

Chemical waste is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Most chemical wastes must be disposed of through the EHS Hazardous Waste Program. To have hazardous waste removed from your laboratory, do the following:

  1. Store chemical wastes in appropriate containers; plastic bottles are preferred over glass for storing hazardous waste when compatibility is not an issue. Segregate chemical waste by compatibility, and not alphabetically.
  2. Chemical waste containers must be labeled with the following information:
    • Full chemical name and quantity of the waste. For mixtures, each chemical must be listed. Abbreviations, acronyms and ditto marks (“”) to replace words are not allowed, as this does not comply with The Hazard Communication Standard;
    • Date of waste generation;
    • Place of origin (department, room number);
    • PI’s name and telephone number;
    • Bottle number assigned on corresponding waste sheet; and
    • The tag or label must have the words: “Hazardous Waste.”
  3. A completed Hazardous Waste Information Form must be submitted to the EHS office (Instructions are on the back of the form). On this form, please include:
    • Full chemical name and quantity of the waste. For mixtures, each chemical and its volume or weight must listed. Abbreviations, acronyms and ditto marks (“”) to replace words are not allowed, as this does not comply with The Hazard Communication Standard;
    • Date of waste generation;
    • Place of origin (department, room number);
    • PI’s name and telephone number;
    • A contact name is required to answer any questions or open the door;
    • Bottle number (in numerical order) assigned on bottle; and
    • A speedtype or account number.
  4. Send the completed form to the Environmental Health and Safety Office, Service Building, 1st floor, Location Code 7227. The form must be received by EHS by Tuesday at noon. Chemical waste removal will then happen on Thursday of that week. Each container must be listed separately, tagged and sealed. Leaking or open containers will not be removed.
  5. The disposal of chemicals by sanitary sewer is only possible with written permission from EHS. Contact the Director or Chemical Waste Manager for more information.
    • Submit a complete list of all chemicals to be disposed of to EHS.
    • EHS will review and provide written approval on a case by case basis.
    • Any change in formulation (volume of chemical, new chemical), will require a fresh review by EHS.
    • Disposal of any chemical into the solid waste disposal system is not allowed.

By Ubong Edet

A passionate Health and Safety professional with a good level of field experience and relevant certifications including NEBOSH, OSHA, ISO, etc certifications. An Health and Safety activist who believes in the growth and continual improvement of the profession. He is going all out to create awareness and safe precious lives.

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