Hazardous WasteHazardous WasteHazardous Waste Everyday mounds of trash are left on street corners to be picked up and recklessly piled onto a city, county, or private dump. But what many people do not realize is that the everyday waste they are throwing out could be polluting the water supply, killing ecosystems, and causing irreversible damage to the environment. In fact, it has only been in the last few decades that people have come to recognize how certain types of waste are posing a direct dilemma to our society. In order to discern what waste is the truly problematic, two broad categories of waste have been established: non-hazardous waste and hazardous waste. An increasing number of groups, organizations, and governments have taken initiative to ensure that the more damaging waste, hazardous waste, is being properly handled and controlled. Although policies and procedures regarding hazardous waste are still fairly new to the United States, the federal and state governments have taken a strong stand against the harmful effects that hazardous waste produces; municipal governments, though, still have much they can do to even more adequately protect local environment and public health. By analyzing the origins of hazardous waste policies and how they have evolved in various ways on a national and sub-national level, one can moreover understand the precautionary measures that local municipalities still need to take.Before the 1800s, the United States produced only a limited amount of waste, especially for a country its size, so policies regarding waste were extremely limited. But in the late nineteenth century, a rampant wave of industrialization hit America; new factories and new innovations came forth with world wars and other pressures encouraging the nation’s mass production. The increased production rates helped the United States economy, but simultaneously reaped havoc on the environment. It was not until the Johnson Administration in the early 1960s, and moreover the subsequent Nixon Administration, that visible progress in the area of hazardous waste truly began to come forth. After its establishment in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spearheaded the creation of many effective pieces of legislation to federally regulate hazardous waste. One of the initial and most well known acts of legislation passed on hazardous waste is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA). This act amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965 that had been ineffective in dealing with the growing amount of hazardous waste in the U.S. RCRA in turn contained two chief advancements: (1) defined more specifically what is considered to be a hazardous waste, and (2) defined proper disposal procedures of solid hazardous waste. UCLA summarized the RCRA definition of hazardous waste as any “substance which poses a hazard to human health or the environment when improperly managed.” To cite what materials constitute an actual hazard to people and the environment, the RCRA divided hazardous wastes more thoroughly into either “characteristic” or “listed” hazardous wastes. Characteristic wastes are those that hold one or more of a set of predefined traits: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity. These four traits have been slightly amended over the years, but remain the basis for how businesses and other entities are to categorize hazardous waste. In contrast, listed wastes are wastes actually cited in the F-list, K-list, P-list, or U-list of RCRA. Each list classifies a different type waste, whether a non-specific source waste, specific source waste, chemical byproduct, or one of many other basic industry byproducts. These lists specifically describe how much of a chemical or other material is needed to be present before it represents a reportable quantity; a reportable quantity meaning that the waste can be considered legally hazardous. But even more difficult than regulating the types of hazardous waste is regulating the ways in which hazardous waste is disposed. Brian Symons, a Kansas environmental engineer specializing in hazardous waste treatment and disposal, cited how the RCRA made business owners much more responsible for their hazardous waste as they are watched more closely by federal officials. There is now an effort to trace all hazardous waste from cradle-to-grave, in other words, from the time they are created to the time they are disposed along and all modes of transport in between. As more problems resulting from hazardous wastes are discovered, the federal government has increasingly attempted to ensure that sufficient efforts are taken to protect human and ecological wellbeing.
A common misconception in the environmental community is that the best time for public health and safety concerns to arise is immediately after the waste is cleaned from the public’s hands. But in fact, the human body needs to be cleaned in advance of the waste because at that point the person’s survival depends on the waste that is thrown over a surface (i.e., an open trash bin or dumpster). Since