Chemicals, like other types of waste, can be harmful to human health or to the environment, either immediately or over an extended period of time. Chemical waste, like other hazardous waste need to be treated, disposed of, or recycled, safely. Hazardous wastes, including chemical waste, fall into one of three broad categories, those that are: Always hazardous - for example, lead acid batteries or fluorescent tubes. Never hazardous - for example edible oil, or, May, or may not, be hazardous and need to be assessed for example, ink or paint. Some chemicals might also be fire hazards; these include petrol and paint thinners. When storing hazardous wastes the presence of other materials like packaging and sawdust can also be a serious hazard if not properly managed as they will help to spread fire rapidly.
Businesses working with and recycling waste materials must identify the hazards and make a proper assessment of the risks. In particular there must be safe working practices for dealing with the hazardous waste, to ensure that it is stored, handled and transported correctly. Waste-treatment sites handling chemicals must also prevent accidents arising from the unintentional or inadequately planned mixing of incompatible chemicals, or from the disposal of unstable chemicals. You can find information on the precautions and tests that can be carried out to determine the compatibility of such substances.
Understanding the properties of hazardous waste and how to handle and dispose of it correctly is essential. If you produce, transport, or receive hazardous waste you will have responsibilities under the Hazardous Waste Regulations. You can obtain more information on identifying hazardous waste and the Hazardous Waste Regulations from the Environment Agency website.
In some circumstances businesses involved in waste and recycling activities may have obligations under REACH, especially where waste substances are being recovered for re-use. For more information see REACH Guidance on waste and recovered substances.
See HSE’s waste and recycling website for general advice and guidance on how to prevent injury and illness in the waste management and recycling industry.