Hazardous Waste Guide: Waste You Can Never Sell

Green Alchemist has been here for you as a resource for several years, connecting you and your recyclable materials to paying outlets, essentially turning your trash into treasures. For those who now have treasure chests full of gold coins, you’re probably interested in other ways that you can monetise your waste. Well, that’s not what this article is about.

This article is about the things you cannot sell into recycling for rebates, but instead of leaving it there, we’re going to satisfy your curiosity and explain the sustainable disposal method for each.

  • Fluorescent Tubes

The danger surrounding these items is the high level of mercury vapour, one of the World Health Organisation’s top 10 most dangerous elements. Interestingly, they can be recycled, here’s how:

  1. Metal, plastic, and glass get stripped from the tubes and sent on their own waste adventure
  2. The remaining phosphorous powder (which contains some mercury) goes to a distilling tank where it gets turned into vapour
  3. The vapour separates from the mercury
  4. What is left is a phosphorous powder that goes back to bulb manufacturers and a high-quality mercury metal that goes to other producers 
  • Batteries

It’s quite common to see batteries get recycled nowadays, but they still must be kept separate from other waste types. The most hazardous battery to avoid is the lead-acid battery, but aside from that, AAA, AA, C, D, 9V, Button, Car, Laptop, Phone, Camera, and even Industrial Batteries can all be recycled, the issue is that 90% of batteries simply don’t. 

Here’s a simplified explanation of the process (depending on battery type):

  1. A hammer mill smashes the battery into tiny pieces
  2. The pieces are placed in vats full of liquid chemicals
  3. Plastics float, metals sink, both are separated
  4. Lead and other metals are further separated
  5. Lead is melted into ingots and sold back to battery manufacturers
  6. The acid from the batteries gets either recycled into sodium sulphate, a more or less harmless compound used in laundry powder
  7. Alternatively, the acid can be neutralised and turned into water

Note: For nickel and lithium batteries the process is quite different

  • Paint

Tens of millions of litres of paint gets sent to incineration every year because selling it into recycling is almost impossible. However, it is possible to recycle paint, it’s simply just not very profitable. Paint recycling is often used for mixing new colours, but it requires great precision because of the dangerous chemicals inside the paint, such as solvents, resin, pigments, and additives.

  • Motor and cooking oils

Cooking oil is widely recycled, but it’s hard to sell to a recycler because they are saving you so much money by taking it away, in fact, it’s far more likely to pay someone to take your cooking oil away than for them to pay you! The same goes for motor oil recycling, and since that process takes even longer and is even more difficult, there’s no margin left for the person who had the motor oil in the first place. Disposal cost avoidance is your best way of profiting here.

Cooking oil process:

  1. Passes through a sustainable filtration and sedimentation process
  2. The oil then sits for up to five weeks
  3. The sediment is removed again, leaving a lighter and purer oil
  4. The oil can be used for carbon-neutral electricity

Engine oil process:

  1. Taken away in a specialist tank
  2. Cleaned and filtered, with impurities removed
  3. Fractioning takes places - different oil qualities are pulled from the oil
  4. Additives introduced to make the oil ready for market
  5. Rigorous testing takes place before it can leave the premises
  • Printer cartridges

In the past, printer cartridges were an absolute nightmare to recycle and so almost nobody tried. Then, manufacturers got wise, increased the price of ink, and redesigned cartridges for refilling. So, in essence, nobody will buy your cartridges, but you can refill them for less than the cost of new ones. Also, if they are being refilled, it is a reuse journey and not a waste journey, meaning they do not become hazardous waste yet, however, if the refilling company deems a cartridge beyond use, it is their responsibility to dispose of it. 

In the cases when printer cartridges are beyond repair, they can be recycled (by a professional company), and the process is very simple:

  1. Cartridges are dismantled
  2. Materials are segregated
  3. Parts are thoroughly cleaned
  4. Parts are sold into the manufacturing industry
  • Old CRT Televisions

These old models, often with wooden frames, were once revolutionary, and are now a bit of an environmental disaster because of the phosphor and lead inside. However, a lot can be done to recycle these units, it’s just that because they’re hazardous and unwanted, you’re not going to make money from recycling them. 

It is possible to recover:

  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Copper
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Platinum
  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Chemicals

We can’t make general statements when it comes to chemical recycling, as it differs on a material by material basis. You need to know what the chemical is, how toxic it is, how much of it there is, what format it’s in, whether it’s flammable or not, and what the risks of cross-contamination are. 

For example, it’s fairly easy to recycle coolants and oils, but the same is not true for brake fluids or contaminated spills and rags. Chemical drums, even if contaminated by non-recyclable hazardous chemicals, can be cleaned and recycled, especially as they contain a lot of plastic and metal.

You cannot recycle pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, agricultural antibiotics, fertilisers, or pool chemicals.

  • Asbestos

In the UK, you will not only not find someone to buy your asbestos, but you will also have absolutely zero chance of recycling it. As a society, we have already gone to great lengths to remove asbestos from existence, but in other parts of the world, like the US, there are some niche technologies that can recycle it into silicate glass for kitchenware.

If you have asbestos waste, call a professional immediately.

  • Aerosols

Aerosols are widely recycled, but they require careful treatment due to the compressed and often flammable gases inside. You should wait until cans are completely empty before placing them in metal recycling. A fully recycled aerosol can provides either aluminium or steel, along with rubber and plastic. 

Here’s the recycling process

  • Cans are sorted by contents
  • Depressurized, contents captured
  • Useful gases repackaged and sold
  • Other gases incinerated for heat energy
  • Plastic components recycled into granulate and sold
  • Metal components crushed and sold as scrap metal

Conclusion

As you have seen, even some hazardous materials can be disposed of sustainably, it’s just that it’s not at a profit to you. 

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