Hazardous Waste Storage Containers and Guidelines: Strategies to Protect Personnel, the Public, and the Environment

Hazardous waste not only poses a threat to those that work with it every day, but also to those who transport and dispose of it. Worse, if hazardous waste is not stored properly, the public could be at risk of exposure, too.

In this article, we discuss what hazardous waste is, how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes hazardous waste, what the best types of hazardous waste storage containers are, and the best hazardous waste store area requirements and other practices you and your team should be following.

What is Hazardous Waste?

According to the EPA, hazardous waste is any waste product with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on the environment and/or on human health.

Where does hazardous waste come from? Multiple sources include industrial manufacturing waste, batteries, electronics, cleaning products, and paints.Economic sectors most responsible for the production of hazardous waste include:

  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Iron and steel manufacturing
  • Petroleum and coal manufacturing
  • Agricultural chemical manufacturing (e.g., pesticides and fertilizer)
  • Waste treatment and disposal

Hazardous waste may be the form of sludge, gas, and liquids.

Hazardous Waste Statistics

According to 2021 market research data, nearly 600 companies in the United States provide hazardous waste collection and disposal services, most of which can be found in New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.

While the industry's revenue declined by over 6.5% in 2020 due to decreasing upstream demand, future increases in industrial production is projected to boost industry growth and demand.

To put the true scale of hazardous waste into context, here are some more surprising facts about hazardous waste:

  • Estimates suggest that 400 million tons of hazardous waste are produced every year—that's equivalent to 13 tons of hazardous waste produced globally every second
  • Every year, more than 130 pounds of hazardous waste are produced for every person in the world
  • In the United States alone, an average of 1,700 pounds of hazardous waste, food, and plastics are produced per American per year—that's three times the global average, and equates to 5% of the world's population generating 40% of the world's waste
  • Within just one generation, the annual production of hazardous waste and manmade chemicals has increased by 40,000% percent

How the EPA Defines Hazardous Waste: 4 Categories

The EPA recognizes four main categories of hazardous waste: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity.


Ignitable hazardous waste products are at risk for burning at relatively low temperatures and therefore have an elevated fire hazard. Examples of ignitable hazardous waste include:

  • Liquids with a flashpoint of less than 140 °F
  • Solids that burn spontaneously
  • Compressed gas that is flammable
  • Oxidizers
  • Materials with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) flammability hazard rating of 3 or 4


Corrosive hazardous waste products are typically either strongly acidic (pH less than 2) or alkaline (pH greater than 12.5). They cause chemical reactions that can destroy tissues and solid materials on contact. Examples include:

  • Water/wastewater treatment chemicals
  • Strong acids
  • Alkaline degreasers


Reactive hazardous waste products are considered chemically unstable and can therefore react violently and dangerously with air or water. This can lead to explosions and toxic vapors or gases. Examples include:

  • Pyrophoric metals (e.g., sodium)
  • Cyanide wastes
  • Ethers
  • Peroxides


Even in very small amounts, toxic hazardous waste products can cause substantial harm, including acute injury or death or chronic, cumulative damage. Such effects may include carcinogenity (the ability to cause cancer) and mutagenicity (the ability to cause permanent genetic and biological changes in offspring of animals and/or humans).

Toxic hazardous waste products contain one or more of 40 contaminants included in the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) table, including:

  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Benzene
  • Cadmium
  • Chloroform
  • Chromium
  • Hexachloroethane
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Methyl ethyl ketone
  • Nitrobenzene
  • Pyridine
  • Selenium
  • Silver
  • Tetrachloroethylene
  • Vinyl Chloride

Other Types of Waste

In addition to the EPA's four main categories of hazardous waste, other types of waste include:

Infectious Waste

Bandages, hypodermic needles, and related materials from hospitals and/or biological research facilities.


Radioactive waste products are hazardous because they emit ionizing energy—sometimes for hundreds or even thousands of years—that can damage living tissues and organisms.

Hazardous Waste Containment Types

Hazardous waste is powerful enough to damage humans and the environment as well as the containers in which it is stored and transported. To protect public health and reduce the risk of pollution, knowing best practice hazardous waste storage guidelines is essential.

The EPA recognizes several hazardous waste storage containers or "units," as defined by Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). These include:

  • Boilers and Industrial Furnaces: enclosed devices that use controlled flame combustion to recover and export energy in the form of steam, heated fluids, or heated gases; examples include cement kilns, aggregate kilns, and halogen acid furnaces
  • Containers: any portable device capable of storing, transporting, treating and/or handling hazardous waste, with the most common being a 55-gallon drum; other examples include tanker trucks, railroad cars, test tubes, buckets, and bags
  • Containment Buildings: completely enclosed self-supporting structures used to house non-containerized hazardous waste products
  • Drip Pads: used at wood preserving plants, drip pads are curbed and have a free-draining base to assist with the collection of wood preservative chemical dripping
  • Injection Wells: wells used to place hazardous fluids deep underground into porous geologic formations
  • Incinerators: enclosed devices that use controlled flame combustion to thermally treat hazardous waste; it destroys toxic components and can reduce the amount of hazardous waste that must be subsequently handled and/or disposed of
  • Landfills: engineered or excavated land sites where non-liquid hazardous waste is finally disposed and covered; to reduce the risk of groundwater and land contamination, landfills must include several design requirements such as leak detection systems, runoff and wind dispersal controls, and double liners
  • Land Treatment Units: these units use natural soil microbes and sunlight to degrade, transform, or immobilize hazardous waste
  • Tanks: stationary devices used to store hazardous materials; these are generally made from materials like steel, plastic, fiberglass, or concrete
  • Waste Piles: these include non-containerized piles of non-liquid hazardous waste and are used for temporary storage only; like landfills, waste piles must have features like a leak detection system, a double liner system, as well as runoff and wind dispersal controls
  • Miscellaneous/Other Units: this includes salt dome or saltbed formations as well as underground mines and caves

Best Practices for Storing Hazardous Waste

The most important practice to follow when storing hazardous waste is correctly selecting the right hazardous waste storage containers for the given material. Different waste products require different containment styles and materials in order to reduce the risk of spills, environmental exposure, and human contact. Check with your industry, state, and/or national governing entities to ensure your hazardous waste store area requirements meet any and all regulatory standards.

In addition to selecting the correct container or unit, parties responsible for handling hazardous waste must also consider:

Ensure Basic Container Maintenance

Develop protocols and designate personnel for regular container inspection. Look for signs of damage, including cracks, rust, dents, or leaks. Check that all lids and closures seal properly. Do not store containers in direct sunlight or near an ignition source. Repackage or move hazardous waste as necessary.

Label Hazardous Waste Clearly

Companies involved in hazardous waste production, transportation, storage, and disposal must clearly label and mark waste according to RCRA regulations. These labels must include the following:

  • Composition and physical state of the waste
  • Hazardous waste properties (Is it corrosive? Is it combustible? etc.)
  • Name and address of the hazardous waste generator
  • Accumulate start date of the hazardous waste

Remain Fully Aware of What is In a Given Hazardous Waste Container

Multiple hazardous waste products may interact with each other and lead to harmful and dangerous consequences, such as fires, toxic fumes, explosions, and container failure. You must understand what is in all hazardous waste storage containers and separate waste appropriately, further emphasizing the importance of proper labeling.

Have Mitigation Plans for Spill Containment

In the unfortunate event that a container fails or that some sort of spill or leakage occurs, you must have the tools, systems, and strategies in place to quickly contain and correct these accidents properly.

Recommended PPE for Hazardous Waste Containment

Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is imperative for protecting the safety of your personnel, as well as reducing the risk of cross-contamination and public exposure. Four levels of PPE—ranging from Level A/highest risk to Level D/lowest risk—are recognized by the EPA, depending on the nature and potential risk of the hazardous waste.

At a minimum (Level D), the appropriate PPE required for handling hazardous waste includes:

  • Safety goggles
  • Face shield or splash guard
  • Gloves
  • Coveralls
  • Steel-toe and chemical resistant boots
  • More advanced PPE, including disposable protective clothing and positive pressure respirators, will be required.


Hundreds of millions of tons of hazardous waste are produced every year across the globe, and the rates of production are increasing. If your company is a generator and/or handler of hazardous waste, it's important to remain fully compliant with all regulatory standards in order to protect your work staff, community, and the environment at large.

Are your employees responsible for hazardous waste containment within their daily workflow? Ensure your personnel are protected and your company is compliant with all safety regulations by utilizing high quality PPE for all your hazardous waste containment needs.

Contact International Enviroguard today at (800) 345-5972 to talk to one of our customer service reps or to learn more about our products.