Handling hazardous wastes can be a tricky business, and it’s always a good idea to educate yourself about the options you have as well as the risks you face. The more you learn, the more likely you are to make the move towards low-cost, compliant, and sustainable solutions for yourself and your business.
A good example of this is lab chemicals. What qualifies as a lab, what sort of chemicals can become problematic, and what is the best way to deal with them?
The word “laboratory” (or “lab”) is customarily used to describe a facility that conducts experimental or routine testing. Most people relate labs with activities involving chemicals. While there are some large lab organizations, such as research and development functions in corporations and government, most labs are small businesses or small entities within larger organizations. These labs may be in warehouses, schools, universities, businesses, medical facilities, hospitals, maintenance departments, or a stand-alone operation.
If you or your business operates such a lab, it is likely that you use small containers (anywhere from five to ten gallons) of chemicals in trade or practice – and keeping these containers of chemicals on-site means you will almost certainly end up in need of recurrent housecleaning. Canisters of these chemicals (including solvents, reagents, acids, paints, and cleaners) will routinely accumulate that are either mislabeled, contaminated, out-of-date, partially used, leaking, or no longer needed. It’s just business as usual.
Disposal is another story. It might seem costly and daunting, as the contents of these containers can’t be simply thrown away or poured down the drain. Doing so would be unsafe and subject to criminal penalty.
Some chemicals are considered hazardous after-use, like solvents or cleaning solutions, while other chemicals can become unstable and even explosive. Old compressed gas lecture bottles have high potential for danger if their valves have rusted, and picric acid is a good example of a chemical that becomes explosive with age (and can eventually explode with even the most minimal friction).
Sometimes trying to combine leftover chemicals can have equally disastrous results. Even if you didn’t blow yourself or your business sky-high in the process, you would still find yourself with a resultant mixture even more expensive and complicated to dispose of.
Thankfully, a cost-effective and practical solution comes in the form of lab packs. A “lab pack” is just cryptic terminology for a container, usually a 55-gallon fiber or steel drum, that is filled with assorted small quantity canisters of compatible laboratory chemicals, segregated into groups such as oxidizers, acids, and flammables.
The containers are typically packed in vermiculite or another suitable absorbent, labeled and prepared for shipping. The wastes are then consolidated even further and shipped for the best possible disposal action. This includes incineration, recycling, landfill, treatment, fuels blending, and neutralization or stabilization.
It’s vital to remember that the process of lab packing has very explicit rules and exceptions, and should be performed only by informed and experienced individuals.