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Environmental Health and Safety

Waste Disposal

Various types of wastes are generated in laboratories. Disposal of wastes is a responsibility of the laboratory generating the waste.

Please review the USC High Hazard and Unknown Waste Minimization Policy [pdf] for more information on the need to minimize these types of wastes.  Common laboratory wastes and how to dispose of them are described below.

1. Hazardous (chemical) waste - all chemical wastes deemed as characteristic or listed wastes must be collected, labeled, stored and disposed off according to our hazardous waste policy. A quick reference guide and hazard characteristic label are used to identify satellite accumulation area and hazard characteristics of wastes, respectively.  Additional guidelines must be followed for special wastes such as:

    • Unknowns - treat all unknowns as hazardous waste. Label with hazardous waste tag and write UNKNOWN and its possible identity. Gather information about the unknown from past or present members of the lab group to determine the identity of the material.
    • Peroxide formers
    • Waste that generate gas - Two common mixtures such as aqua regia (nitric acid + hydrochloric acid) and piranha (sulfuric acid + hydrogen peroxide) tend to produce gas and must be stored carefully to prevent pressurizing or exploding containers. These and other similar mixtures must be stored in approved waste containers that have a second cap for venting. These containers can be requested from EH&S.
    • Mercury containing items such as thermometers, thermostat switches and manometers must be collected for proper disposal through EH&S and not disposed in the trash.
    • Silica gels, dessicants, molecular sieve, chromatography columns contaminated with hazardous chemicals. These materials are used to absorb hazardous chemicals and, therefore, must be collected as hazardous waste. Place in five-gallon bucket with lid, label as hazardous waste and request for EH&S pick-up on-line.
    • Ethidium bromide gels - collect in a five-gallon bucket with lid, label as hazardous waste and request for EH&S pick-up online.

2. Biohazard waste - Sharps contaminated with biological hazards, microbiological specimens, blood and blood products, etc.

3. Radioactive waste - Wastes containing and/or contaminated with radioactive materials

4. Mixed waste

    • Please notify the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) prior to generating mixed waste in your laboratory. Mixed waste refers to liquid waste that contains both radioisotopes and hazardous chemicals and includes solid radioactive oxidizers. If you have questions determining if a waste is “mixed waste”, please consult with the RSO. Whenever an experiment permits, non-hazardous chemicals should be used as an alternative to hazardous chemicals to minimize the generation of mixed waste.
    • Principal Investigators must store mixed waste in their laboratory at the point of generation (i.e., satellite accumulation area) until the waste is picked up by EH&S or the waste vendor. Any experiment that may generate mixed waste should have a written standard operating procedure (SOP). This SOP must include a description of the collection, storage, labeling and disposal of mixed waste. Then email the completed SOP to the Radiation Safety Officer and Hazardous Waste Manager for review and approval. 

5. Empty chemical containers

    • Make sure that the container is empty.
    • Check if the chemical is p-listed. If chemical is p-listed, tag as hazardous waste and request for EH&S pick-up online.
    • If chemical emits strong odors, tag as hazardous waste and request for EH&S pick-up online.
    • If chemical is not p-listed:
      1. Remove label or simply deface by crossing out label completely using a marking pen (label should be unreadable).
      2. If container is plastic, dispose as regular trash.
      3. If container is glass, place in rigid cardboard box. Tape the box closed, label with “EMPTY GLASS BOTTLES” and place in dumpster. 

6. Broken glass and small glass items (glass pipettes, stirring rods, vials, etc.) 

  • If contaminated with p-listed chemicals, collect in five-gallon plastic bucket with a lid and request for EH&S pick-up online.
  • If contaminated with biohazard, see #2.
  • If contaminated with radioactive hazard, see #3.
  • Broken glass not contaminated with any hazardous material:
    1. Place in five-gallon plastic bucket with a lid. When bucket is full, dispose in the dumpster.
    2. Alternatively, use a small or medium-sized, rigid cardboard box lined with heavy-duty trash bag, or a commercially available broken glass box pre-lined with a plastic bag. A thick cardboard and a thick plastic lining are necessary to catch any excess liquid and small glass pieces.  This will also keep sharp edges from breaking through the box. Do not use large boxes; they are very heavy for lifting when full of broken glass.
    3. Once the box is full, tape the box securely, and label  “Broken Glass”.
    4. Using a rolling cart, move the box and place in the dumpster.

NOTE: Broken glass must not be transferred from a transitional container to another due to increased risk of injury from unnecessary additional handling of broken glass. Once a box is filled with broken glass, the box must be taped up and discarded. If a plastic bucket with lid is used for collecting broken glass, the plastic bucket must be discarded with the broken glass. Contents may not be transferred to another container to save the bucket.

7. Sharps (syringes and needles, blade, scalpels, glass pipettes)

    • Sharps contaminated with hazardous chemicals (p-listed, acutely toxic, heavy metals, carcinogens) - collect in leak-proof, puncture-resistant container (commercial non-contaminated sharps container or tall plastic coffee containers). Label as "Chemically Contaminated Sharps". Request for EH&S pick-up online.
    • Non-contaminated sharps - Collect in rigid, puncture-resistant, tall container. Contact for questions regarding disposal.

8. Solid wastes - paper towels, filter papers, weighing boats, plastic pipette tips, disposable plastic pipettes, and others

    • Solid wastes contaminated with p-listed chemicals - collect in five-gallon bucket with a lid and lined with plastic bag. Tag as hazardous waste and request for EH&S pick-up online.
    • Non-contaminated solid waste - collect as normal trash.

9. Gas cylinders

Empty gas cylinders must be returned to the vendor. If the cylinder is old and the vendor who owns the cylinder cannot be determined, contact EH&S to determine the best way to dispose of the "orphaned" cylinder.

10. Lecture bottles

EH&S recommends that researchers purchase lecture bottles from vendors who will accept partially full or empty containers when they are no longer needed in the lab. The disposal of lecture bottles is very expensive. If the vendor or supplier will not accept an unwanted lecture bottle, contact EH&S to arrange for its disposal.

11. DEA Controlled Substances and other drugs

    • EH&S does not provide any services such as inspections or training for the registration, storage, use or disposal/destruction of DEA controlled substances or other drugs.  Consult the SC DHEC Drug Control webpage for guidance on controlled substance registration, inspections, violations and other related information.
    • For more information on the use and/or disposal of DEA controlled substances for animal research, contact the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
    • The license holder is responsible for managing the proper disposal of controlled substances. If orphaned DEA substances are identified and the license holder is no longer at the university, contact the USC Police Department to evaluate if a law enforcement officer can take possession of unwanted DEA controlled substances and oversee the destruction.
    • A DEA-approved reverse distributor may be an option for disposal of controlled substances in some circumstances. The license holder is responsible for verifying all compliance requirements are fulfilled. EH&S does not recommend any specific reverse distribution vendor, but options that may be evaluated include Triumvirate Environmental and Covanta.

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