Do you know what happens to commercial waste once it's tossed in the bin? How does commercial waste disposal work? And why should you care?
To be environmentally responsible (and to avoid penalties), you need to know what happens to commercial waste after you toss it in the bin and whether your waste is being disposed of legally and ethically.
Props to you if your company is one of the many companies rolling out green initiatives in the United States.
The knowledge of commercial waste disposal can help you implement better programs, improve your company's reputation, reduce waste-management costs, reduce waste generation, and be more responsible with the impact you make on the environment.
From Your Table to Being Buried Underground
The pen lying on your worktable - the one that you use to jot down ideas, sign documents, and doodle - will eventually end up in a landfill (if it's responsibly disposed of).
Any waste that's generated on a commercial property or during a commercial transaction is commercial waste. It doesn't matter if the customer comes to you (retail, restaurants, salon, etc.) or you go to the customer (plumbing, lawn mowing, etc.)
The EPA states that Americans generated about 292.4 million tons of waste in 2018, of which 146.1 million tons ended up in landfills (about 50%). Unfortunately, a large quantity of waste that ends up in landfills consists of recyclable plastics.
The Waste Journey
According to your region's local policies, you can hire a private contractor or pay the municipality to pick up the commercial waste.
1st Stop: Waste Transfer Station
The waste is transported to a transfer station, where the waste is sorted into recyclable, non-recyclable, and hazardous waste. Waste sorting is a tedious process and requires caution to avoid injury while sorting by hand. The workers wear protective equipment while handling potentially harmful waste.
Not all waste transfer stations accept hazardous, flammable, and toxic waste. The workers at the waste transfer station salvage recyclable items and send them to a recycling facility. And if they find a thrown item in a working condition, they can pass it on to a second-hand store.
The recyclable, non-recyclable, and hazardous waste is baled together, and loaded on trucks or trains. The next step in the journey could be a landfill, incinerator, waste-to-energy plant, or hazardous waste facility.
Dumping waste into a landfill is the most common method of waste disposal. The average depth of a landfill is 6 m, and the average size is 600 acres. A layer of clay and plastic liner forms a barrier between the trash and the soil around the landfill. After filling the landfill, native bush, shrubs, and trees are planted to restore the landscape. The decomposition of waste in landfills releases methane, which is harvested to generate power.
Unfortunately, the number of open landfills in the US is reducing rapidly. Waste generation is increasing every year and the current open landfills will max out in the next few decades. Digging new landfills isn't always an option because of the danger it poses to the environment.
Incinerators are an expensive method of waste disposal. Thus, they are preferred in regions with limited land availability.
Only non-hazardous municipal waste can be incinerated, as the gas emissions of hazardous waste can have a detrimental effect on nearby communities and wildlife. Incinerators can't replace landfills as the ash left after burning trash has to be buried in landfills.
Also, incinerators need to be fed high volumes of waste in order to keep them running, which can dampen a city’s efforts to reduce waste generation.
Some non-hazardous, and organic waste is diverted to a waste-to-energy plant. Here, the waste is used to generate electricity with methods including incineration, gasification, thermal depolymerization, pyrolysis, etc.
Regions like New Zealand and Europe have made a significant investment in developing WtE plants because of the space constraints for building landfills.
On the other hand, American authorities find it more feasible to build landfills compared to WtE plants. Apart from economic obstacles, authorities get pushback from local communities over the development of WtE plants, citing environmental pollution, increased truck traffic, and several other valid reasons. Currently, the United States only has 75 WtE plants.
Hazardous waste facility
Hazardous waste generated at manufacturing plants, medical facilities, constructions sites, etc. is sent to a hazardous waste facility. There it's treated chemically or incinerated to alter its properties and make it safer for disposal.
These facilities store the waste until enough piles up to be transported via truck to a landfill.
It's stored in carefully designed containers to prevent it from leaching into the groundwater.
Where do you come in?
Working with a trusted waste management company ensures that your waste is disposed of ethically and as per the guidelines.
Your Initiative Can Go A Long Way
Most trash ends up in landfills, and it's going to stay there for decades. There's no healthy way to get "rid" of waste. It always comes back in the form of economic setbacks and pollution. And we’re only talking about the waste that IS managed responsibly.
There's a ton of unaccounted waste that either ends up in rivers, taints the beauty of our forests, or lies on the curb, unattended. Illegal dumping is a huge issue in the US and all over the world.
As a responsible citizen, you must do a background check on the organization responsible for disposing of your waste. The EPA requires businesses to make sure that their industrial waste is disposed of in lawful places. And if you are hiring a company to manage your waste, you must meet these requirements.
And of course, what's better than managing waste? Not producing waste at all. Enviro Care can conduct a waste audit at your facility and reinforce your sustainability efforts by helping you:
- Reduce waste generation
- Recycle waste
- Train your staff to promote waste reduction
- Save costs on waste management
- Switch to greener alternatives
The Enviro Care team helps businesses and organizations adopt sustainable practices and minimize their impact on the environment.
We are compliance-driven and will help you manage your commercial waste disposal efficiently and responsibly. Contact us today to get help with waste management!