Is Hazardous Waste Management Part of the Circular Economy?

Written by Supreet Kaur, ALTECH Environmental Consulting Ltd. and John Nicholson, Editor, Hazmat Management Magazine

There is a growing movement from every sector of the economy that recognizes that there needs to be a focus on a sustainable future by minimizing waste and maintaining natural resources. With the increase in industrialization, the main problem in the management of hazardous waste is that it poses a harmful impact on environment and human health.

The term “circular economy” is a new buzzword and has been identified as part of society’s move toward a sustainable future with the inclusion of the 3Rs and extended producer responsibility.  Can you apply circular economy practices to the management of hazardous waste?

Hazardous waste is the potentially dangerous by-product of a wide range of activities, including manufacturing, farming, water treatment systems, construction, automotive garages, laboratories, hospitals, and other industries. The waste contains chemicals, heavy metals, radiation, pathogens, or other materials. These wide range of toxic chemicals affecting environment and human health and involving several routes of exposure, depending on types of waste. Some toxins, such as mercury and lead persist in the environment for many years and accumulate over time.

Hazardous waste disposal is a challenge for many businesses and industries. Almost every size of industry, and some commercial enterprises, generate hazardous waste. The need for efficient hazardous waste management and disposal is important in order to minimize the risks to lives and the environment.

It has been demonstrated that it is possible to recycle some specific hazardous waste streams.  In fact, recycling is best way to manage hazardous waste to minimize the amount of hazardous waste.

The circular economy is aimed at continual use of resources and eliminating waste. Many industries are focusing on the circular economy to reduce their carbon footprints, reusing their products, and cost-effective methods of waste management.

At the point when waste is reused, everybody benefits in view of lower energy use, diminished ozone depleting substance, characteristic asset preservation, lower removal costs and, frequently, more effective creation by utilizing reused materials.

An example of an important industrial chemicals that eventually becomes a hazardous waste are natural and inorganic solvents. Solvents are incorporated in paints and cements, cleaners and degreasers, drugs and many other products. Solvents are also used in a wide assortment of businesses including hardware, car, drug and paint manufacturers. Many companies are require the safe management of their spent solvents.

Chemical Recycling in Canada

Fielding Environmental, headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, is an example of a chemical recycler in Canada. It has been serving industry clients for over 55 years, specializing in the recovery of solvents, glycols and refrigerants from automotive, coating and paint, printing and pharmaceutical industries. It is the most accredited solvent recycler in Canada. Moreover, it is largest Canadian recycler company in recycling waste ethylene and waste propylene glycol.

Fielding has technologies which not only collect waste from several industries but also extract the best from these resources. They recover all the positive qualities in it and transform waste into new products. Fielding is able recycle waste solvents to a purity that allows the same organization to reuse it without limitations. If a customer prefers not to take back a recycled solvent, Fielding uses it as a feedstock in the synthesis of new products that is sold nationally as well as internationally.

The company not only focuses on waste management but mainly works on waste optimization. Waste optimization is to change the waste into new product or use it as fuel. “If we want to build circular economy, we have to change the waste paradigm”, Ellen McGregor, CEO of Fielding environmental.

If any solvent is unsuitable for recovery, Fielding utilizes it as a fuel. In this way, all incoming waste is either recycled or has its energy value recovered (sometimes referred to as the 4th R – reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover [energy]). Fielding believes this is the best approach to managing incoming hazardous waste.

“We need to redefine the 3R (reduce, recycle, reuse) waste management hierarchy. A hierarchy put disposal and incineration in the same pyramid.  We need to break these things apart.  We need to include energy recovery us the pyramid.” Ms. McGregor added.

Ms. McGregor stated that all levels of government have a role to play in encouraging the 3Rs with respect to hazardous waste and in respecting the important role of hazardous waste companies in communities.  “Government has to play role in whole notion of procurement. There must be X-percentage of recycling components in products manufactured. Also, government has to ensure that companies in circular economy are welcomed in community. Recyclers need to be in urban areas so they have access to quality roads and other facilities,” She added.

“Fielding is all about the waste optimization we are trying that our material does not find their way to our soil, air and water,” Ms. McGregor said.  “98% of our business serves the circular economy.”