Different types of waste and how to properly dispose of them
From spoiled and discarded food to concrete and electronic devices, waste comes in many forms and sizes.
But, do you ever stop and wonder how these various waste types are managed and disposed of?
Each waste type has its own set of rules for disposal. In this article, we’ll break down each type of waste and how to properly dispose of it.
When you think of waste, you likely think of household waste and the garbage containers at your home or office. They get full and you usually take them to a larger container that your local waste management company picks up on a weekly basis.
But, businesses, factories, hospitals, and manufacturers also produce tons of waste each day and year as well.
As you may have guessed, the debris produced by these types of businesses isn’t simply thrown away and picked up by a neighborhood garbage truck on a weekly basis.
While household waste is its own category, there are other categories as well including industrial waste, construction waste, electronic waste (or e-waste), organic waste, and medical waste.
Industrial waste is any material discarded during or after the industrial manufacturing process. Most often this waste comes from factories and other industrial plants including mining, food manufacturing, consumer goods, and power generation plants.
On average, about 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste are generated each year by companies in the United States. However, 97% of that waste is considered wastewater which is a by-product of many of the production processes these industries utilize.
If you’re wondering where exactly industrial waste comes from, here are a few common sources:
How many types of industrial waste are there?
Just as there are different types of waste categories, each type has its own subcategories as well. In general, industrial waste can be further classified into subcategories including:
Household waste as the term implies is waste generated by residential households. Typically this includes food waste, packaging from boxes, paper, recyclable items like plastic bottles and aluminum cans, as well as consumer goods like clothing and furniture.
According to TitleMax, each year about 254 million tons of household waste are produced each year in the United States or about 4.40 pounds per person on average daily.
Household waste like industrial waste can be broken down into subcategories including hazardous household waste and non-hazardous household waste.
Non-hazardous household waste includes any refuse from common household activities like cooking, cleaning, and gardening. Because it's non-hazardous it can generally be disposed of in a standard waste container that’s picked up weekly by your local garbage collection company.
Hazardous household waste includes things like batteries, paints, oils, and lacquers. While most households produce minimal hazardous waste, these items need to be disposed of properly to avoid any negative impacts on the environment.
What household waste can be composted?
With all that waste generated each year, you may be wondering if household waste can be composted.
The simple answer is, yes!
Most food waste and organic matter such as leaves and food scraps for example can be composted and turned into fertilizer. Composting household waste is a great way to prevent it from filling up our landfills and re-purposing it to help the environment.
Construction waste is any waste produced from building sites. This often includes materials like concrete, cement, steel, and plastics typically used in the construction or renovation of buildings and residential complexes.
So, how much construction waste is produced? Often referred to as C&D waste, the EPA estimates that approximately 600 million tons of construction waste are produced each year in the United States alone. Of that, 90 percent of construction waste is comprised of demolition projects while the other 10 percent comprised new construction projects.
Whether commercial or residential, most building and construction projects utilize similar materials and as such produce similar types of construction waste including:
While most construction waste is not classified as hazardous, they do require some special equipment for disposing of. As you may have guessed, materials like concrete and brick are quite heavy and require special dumpsters called lowboy dumpsters to transport to landfills and facilities that recycle construction waste.
Can construction waste be recycled?
Oftentimes, construction waste can be recycled and used in future projects. Concrete for example can often be broken down and re-mixed in a new mixture. Steel and other metals are also waste types that can be recycled and used in additional construction projects.
Recycled construction waste helps to conserve landfill space as well as lower the cost of building expenses for construction companies who would otherwise have to purchase new materials.
Electronic waste, often referred to as e-waste is generated by discarded electronic products such as cellular phones, computers, TVs, and other common electronic devices.
In 2019, the United States produced about 6.92 million tons of electronic waste (nearly 50 pounds per person). Of that, only about 15 percent of these materials were recycled.
Fun fact: circuit boards (often used in electronics) are estimated to contain 40 to 800 times more gold than per ton than a single ton of ore!
Where does electronic waste go?
Like other types of waste, e-waste typically ends up buried or incinerated in our landfills. Electronic waste that is able to be recycled is usually shipped abroad and separated into usable parts where valuable materials like gold and copper are extracted and re-used in new electronic devices.
Since a large portion of electronic waste is not recycled, you may be wondering if e-waste is harmful. E-waste products disposed of in landfills contain heavy metals and can ultimately end up contaminating soils and groundwater.
For these reasons, it is important to dispose of electronics properly. Most cities and states in the US have organizations that can help recycle electronics safely. You can visit a site like CalRecycle to find organizations that dispose of e-waste.
What are the different types of electronic waste?
As with the broader scope of waste types in this article, e-waste can be further classified into subcategories including:
Organic waste is generally biodegradable and compostable material that comes from a plant or animal. Examples would include food scraps, yard waste, manure, and organic materials like paper or cardboard.
According to RTS, American waste more food than any other country in the world - about 40 million tons annually.
Most of the organic food waste is derived from our habit of throwing away perfectly good food based on a simple misunderstanding of things like expiration dates.
The good news is that most organic waste is composted and turned into nutrient-rich fertilizers.
Alternative options for recycling organic waste include:
What are common organic waste types?
Just like at the local grocery store, you can think of organic waste as items often found in your kitchen or pantry:
Medical waste is generally waste produced by hospitals and doctor's offices that have been contaminated by bodily fluids such as blood or urine.
According to Medical Waste Pros, about 5.9 million tons of medical waste are generated in the US each year!
The most common producers of medical waste are hospitals, laboratories, medical facilities that frequently handle toxic materials and bodily fluids via bandages, chemical treatments, disposable masks, syringes, and sample tests from blood or urine.
Just like hazardous waste, medical waste requires special treatment before it can be disposed of. Through a process called autoclavin, medical waste is placed in high-pressure bins at high temperatures to sterilize and kill any pathogens.
Whether you’re getting rid of waste at home or at your place of work, you should know the different types of waste and the proper way to manage and dispose of it.
If possible, do your part to recycle any waste products that can be recycled. If not, be sure you’re disposing of the waste properly.
Not only will this help you avoid fines for mishandling the waste, but it also helps keep our environment clean