Monday, April 11, 2016

Hazardous waste: Out of sight, out of mind?

Ecology hazardous waste inspector challenges all of us to think again 

by Krista Kenner, communications

It’s easy to go about your day and not think about hazardous waste disposal—out of sight, out of mind, right? But it’s important to step back every so often and think about how we as a community, and as individuals, generate and manage our waste.

And more importantly ask, can we do a better job?

Mindy Collins, hazardous waste compliance inspector in Ecology’s Bellingham office, has thought about waste almost every day of her 20-year environmental career, which has largely focused on waste disposal and management.

Collins is part of Ecology’s Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction team. Her job is to help businesses figure out how to better manage the waste they generate. (And save money along the way.)

Sometimes that means reducing waste through innovation. Other times that means changing disposal methods. But before she can do any of that, she has to learn about their business, their products and the processes that create waste.

“I feel so lucky,” said Collins. “I get to talk to people about their businesses, and learn about their products. The stories I get to hear about the history of the company, or how they started making a product—it’s just fascinating.”

Different businesses, common concerns

You might be surprised to learn the wide range of businesses and organizations that generate hazardous waste. Big box stores, hospitals, universities, and even art studios, to name a few.

Collins typically visits businesses that generate a significant volume of hazardous waste—220 lbs or more of waste per month—or those that need additional help managing it. In the last year, she visited a boat builder, wood treatment facility, aerospace manufacturer, pharmaceutical manufacturer, a company that makes fishing lures, and a company that makes orthotics for children.

“There’s one commonality in all of these vastly different companies,” Collins said. “Business owners are busy. And let’s face it, environmental regulations can be confusing—especially to someone who doesn’t work with them every day. I really enjoy helping people navigate the process.”

She looks at how wastes are stored, and whether there are any risks to human health or the environment. Are the containers appropriate, and in good condition? Are they labeled correctly? Is there a spill response plan? She also looks at the company’s waste disposal records to see what is going where. Each industry and business has its own set of challenges and complexities, but success stories abound.

Putting business practices to good use

Earth Day is less than two weeks away, making April a great month to look inward and refocus our own daily habits. How can we take a Mindy Collins approach to household waste? What ingredients make up the products we use? How should they be safely disposed? What are we throwing away that could be put to better use?

Most of us lead busy lives and changing habits is difficult—especially when we don’t have an environmental consultant to guide us. So we’ve culled our online resources to help you.

Tools to reduce, manage, and safely dispose of household waste:

1.) Be curious. We have a team of people that test consumer products to ensure that manufacturers are complying with restrictions and reporting requirements. You can read these reports, or search for information on individual products.

2.) Choose safer products. We’ve compiled a list of great resources for shoppers looking for safer, greener products. EPA also has an interactive tool to help find better products for the home, school, office and more.

3.) Think before you buy, or throw away. Adhesives, degreasers, toilet cleaners, batteries, and paint are among the many hazardous wastes that are common in households. Choose alternative products, buy in small quantities, and safely dispose at a hazardous waste collection site.

4.) Recycle fluorescent lights. The LightRecycle Washington program helps Washington residents and businesses recycle fluorescent and mercury-containing lights for free.

5.) Recycle electronics. E-Cycle Washington is a successful program that helps keep old electronics, which may contain toxic materials, out of our landfills. Bring televisions, computers, monitors and tablets and more to an e-Cycle location in your area.

Earth Day every day

Earth Day is Friday, April 22. (And every day is a good day to inspire better habits for the environment!) In the next two weeks, we’ll have additional blog posts about our work and how you can help protect the earth! Find it all on our social media channels by searching #EarthPassItOn.

No comments: