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Waste Management Options

Waste Management Hierarchy: Source Reduction and Reuse (most preferred), Recycling or Composting, Energy Recovery, Treatment and Disposal (least preferred)

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Recovery from a homeland security incident will likely involve the management of waste. It is important to understand the capabilities and limitations of different waste management options for the various types of wastes generated in order to make cos effective waste management decisions that are protective of human health and the environment. As a general matter, EPA has a waste management hierarchy, with a preference for reuse and recycling options.

The information on waste management options presented on this site can assist in pre-incident planning and can inform waste management decisions before and after a homeland security incident occurs. The information is not intended to be exhaustive but rather a starting place for informative and practical waste management-related information. Other treatment and disposal options may exist.

Reuse

Description: Instead of being disposed of, materials that are recovered from an incident and decontaminated may be able to be reused. Reusing these materials protects the environment by saving resources, including energy, virgin materials, and landfill space as well as reduces the economic impact of the affected site. This option should be considered before more permanent disposal options in order to minimize the amount of waste needing disposal.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Preserves original item
  • Saves resources
  • Saves space in landfills
  • May require decontamination first to ensure safe reusability
  • Sampling required to verify item is clean
  • Public perception
  • May increase risk to public

Applicable Incidents: Biological Attacks; Chemical Attacks; Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Construction and Demolition Materials; Soil, Mud, and Sand; Electronics; White Goods; Vehicles and Marine Vessels; Building Contents

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Recycling

Description: Recycling involves making materials that would otherwise be disposed of as waste into valuable resources for new products. Recycling these materials protects the environment by saving resources, including energy, virgin materials, and landfill space. This option should be considered before more permanent disposal options in order to minimize the amount of waste needing disposal.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • May generate revenue by selling the material
  • Produces a usable product
  • Saves resources and energy
  • Saves space in landfills
  • May require treatment first to ensure safe usability
  • May require sampling before recycling
  • Public perception regarding usability of product

Applicable Incidents: Biological Attacks; Chemical Attacks; Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Vegetative Debris; Construction and Demolition Materials; Hazardous Waste; Electronics; White Goods

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Composting

Description: Composting is the controlled biological decomposition of organic material in the presence of air to form a humus-like material. Controlled methods of composting include mechanical mixing and aerating, ventilating the materials by dropping them through a vertical series of aerated chambers, or placing the compost in piles out in the open air and mixing it or turning it periodically. This treatment option is distinct from backyard composting that is conducted by individuals on their own properties. Instead, composting, as a treatment option, is used to decompose large quantities of waste either on-site (e.g., on a farm in association with animal disease control activities) or off-site (e.g., composting facilities). Off-site composting will trigger transportation considerations.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Cost effective
  • Produces a potentially usable product
  • May minimize spread of pathogens
  • Growing acceptance by states and industry
  • Saves space in landfills
  • Requires dedicated space for a period of time
  • Requires maintenance or monitoring
  • Possible odors/runoff
  • Requires control of vermin and other vectors
  • Public perception regarding usability of product
  • May have limited capability if the ambient temperatures are too low

Applicable Incidents: Foreign Animal Diseases (e.g., Avian Influenza); Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Vegetative Debris; Animal Carcasses

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On-Site Burial

Description: This disposal option refers to the placing of the waste within the ground at the site of the incident. This option should only be used when site characteristics allow it (e.g., depth to water table) and proper environmental controls to protect groundwater, surface water, and soil are put into place. Refer to Federal, state, local, and tribal laws and regulations for the appropriate requirements.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Rapid, on-premise solution
  • Cost effective
  • Eliminates on-road transportation
  • Minimizes spread of pathogens
  • Restrictions on approved sites
  • Requires significant space
  • May require initial and continuous environmental monitoring
  • Contamination may result
  • Future land use concerns
  • Public perception
  • Predators if shallow burial
  • Requires control of vermin and other vectors

Applicable Incidents: Foreign Animal Diseases; Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Municipal Solid Waste; Animal Carcasses

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Landfill Disposal

Description: This is a disposal option involving carefully designed structures built into or on top of the ground in which waste is isolated from the surrounding environment. There are different types of landfills, each designed to handle particular waste streams. For example, hazardous waste must be placed into a RCRA Subtitle C landfill. Municipal solid waste can be placed into a RCRA Subtitle D landfill. In addition, there are construction and demolition landfills and industrial landfills. Generally, each landfill is permitted or licensed for particular kinds of waste. A landfill generally cannot accept waste that falls outside the scope of its permit. However, even if a landfill can legally accept a particular waste, the owner or operator does not have to accept the waste. In addition, some wastes may need to be treated before being disposed of in a landfill. It is important to note that treatment options may generate their own wastes, which may also be disposed of in landfills, when appropriate. More information on landfills can be found on EPA’s Landfills/Land Disposal web page.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Waste is properly characterized
  • Facilities are properly sited with necessary controls
  • Suitable for numerous waste streams
  • Transportation concerns/costs
  • Potential spread of pathogens from biological incidents
  • Reluctance of some owners/operators/residents
  • Facility indemnification may be an issue
  • Total capacity limited in each landfill

Applicable Incidents: Explosive Attacks; Radiological Attacks; Biological Attacks; Foreign Animal Diseases (e.g., Chronic Wasting Disease); Chemical Attacks; Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Vegetative Debris; Construction and Demolition Materials; Soil, Mud, and Sand; Municipal Solid Waste; Hazardous Waste; Electronics; White Goods; Putrescent Waste; Animal Carcasses; Radiological, Biological, and Chemical-Contaminated Wastes

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Open Burning

Description: This disposal option refers to the deliberate outdoor burning of waste. It can be done in open drums, in fields, and in large open pits or trenches. The use of this option is highly restrictive; many states and local communities have laws regulating or banning open burning. Open burning should only be done when and where it is appropriate and if there are no other alternatives available. Open burning is prohibited for many waste streams and may require special permission for allowable waste streams. Under certain conditions, emergency waivers may be issued. Refer to state, local, and tribal regulations for specific requirements.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Can be an option in remote or cold climates
  • Eliminates on-road transportation
  • Restrictions on approved sites and waste streams
  • Many states prohibit use or require special permission
  • Typically requires air monitoring
  • Weather can severely limit use/effectiveness
  • Public acceptance
  • May spread contamination

Applicable Incidents: Foreign Animal Diseases; Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Vegetative Debris; Animal Carcasses

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Incineration

Description: Also called combustion, this treatment option burns waste under controlled conditions. As with landfills, different incinerators are permitted for different kinds of waste. Hazardous waste must be brought to an incinerator permitted to accept hazardous waste. Municipal solid waste incinerators are permitted to burn municipal solid waste, with some units having the ability to recover energy. Medical waste incinerators are designed to handle pathogenic wastes. Incinerators do not have to accept the waste brought to them, even if the waste is within the scope of the permit.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Reduces waste volume needing disposal
  • Can inactivate disease agents
  • Can reduce the toxicity of waste
  • Can produce energy
  • Residues still require proper testing and disposal
  • May produce undesirable by-products
  • Transportation concerns/costs
  • Capacity limitations
  • Facility indemnification may be an issue
  • Reluctance of some owners/operators/residents

Applicable Incidents: Biological Attacks; Food Contamination; Foreign Animal Diseases (e.g., Chronic Wasting Disease); Chemical Attacks; Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Vegetative Debris; Municipal Solid Waste; Hazardous Waste; Animal Carcasses; Biological-Contaminated Waste

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Rendering

Description: This treatment option converts animal carcasses or animal by-products into economically valuable products. During the rendering process, as the animal material is heated, water is driven off, and the animal material separates into a fat-containing material called “tallow” and a solid material called “meat and bone meal.” Please note that in order to prevent the spread of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow disease,” through animal feed, FDA prohibits the rendering of high-risk cattle material for animal feed use. Therefore, this high-risk cattle material will have to be disposed of by other means (e.g., landfill, composting, incineration, and possibly by disposal rendering). For more information on the management of this material, please see EPA’s web page on this rule.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Recycles animal carcasses
  • Inactivates many pathogens
  • Transportation concerns/costs
  • Potential for disease spread during transport
  • Limited capacity
  • Reluctance of some owners/operators/residents
  • Residues require proper handling and management
  • Public perception regarding usability of product

Applicable Incidents: Foreign Animal Diseases; Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Putrescent Waste; Animal Carcasses

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Alkaline Hydrolysis

Description: This treatment option uses an alkaline solution such as sodium hydroxide, pressure, and heat to convert animal carcasses into an aqueous solution. The resulting aqueous solution must be neutralized and properly managed. Alkaline hydrolysis is one of the few technologies capable of deactivating prions, which are believed to cause Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) diseases such as mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Suitable for viruses, bacteria, and prions
  • Transportation concerns/costs
  • Limited capacity
  • Not widely available
  • Residues require proper handling and management
  • Waste stream disposal issues
  • Public perception

Applicable Incidents: Foreign Animal Diseases

Possible Waste Streams: Animal Carcasses

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Digestion Methods

Description: This treatment option for animal carcasses involves a process that uses bacteria to break down organic matter. The digestion process produces biosolids and methane gas, which are potentially useful products.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Suitable for viruses and bacteria (not prions)
  • Transportation concerns/costs
  • Limited capacity
  • Not widely available
  • Residues require proper handling and management

Applicable Incidents: Foreign Animal Diseases

Possible Waste Streams: Animal Carcasses

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Autoclaving

Description: This treatment option sterilizes waste through the use of high temperatures (up to 300° F) and high pressure steam (up to 45 psig). It is a commonly used treatment process for medical waste.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Suitable for viruses/disease agents
  • Throughput
  • Transportation concerns/costs
  • Residues still require proper testing and disposal
  • Porous materials present difficulties

Applicable Incidents: Biological Attacks (e.g., Anthrax); Foreign Animal Diseases

Possible Waste Streams: Biological-Contaminated Waste

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Bioremediation

Description: This treatment option naturally degrades chemicals in soil and groundwater using biological processes that involve the conversion of chemicals into water and harmless gases by microbes. The right conditions (e.g., temperature, nutrients, amount of oxygen) must be present or created in order for bioremediation to be successful.

Considerations:

Pros Cons
  • Cost effective
  • Eliminates on-road transportation
  • Safe
  • Few, if any, wastes are created
  • Requires dedicated space for a period of time
  • May extend cleanup schedule
  • May require maintenance or monitoring
  • Sampling required

Applicable Incidents: Explosive Attacks; Chemical Attacks; Natural Disasters

Possible Waste Streams: Chemical-Contaminated Waste

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