Stories of Waste at Work

In the fast-paced world we live in, waste is commonplace. Not only are these waste proliferating in households and public places, there are also stories of waste at work.

There are things you can find everywhere. One of them is waste. Waste can be at your home, at the park, and sometimes at places that you least expected. So, it is no wonder if you can find waste at your workplace where operations are mostly done. However, even if waste seems to be found everywhere, you cannot assure that the majority of people in your workplace are aware about the types of waste, especially if there is no program being implemented in your workplace to address such issue.

waste at work

The lack of program on managing waste at work in your company contributes to the insufficient information of what type of waste is commonly found in your workplace or how much of this waste is being produced in your workplace. In this regard, this makes it difficult for your workplace to identify which resources should be lessened and what better actions should be done to your business’ resources.

Thus, to understand waste at work will help you target inefficiencies in your operations, leading to a better, more streamlined business flow.

In this article, you will find that stories of waste at work are abundant and can even considerable factors to worker accidents and loss of productivity. Furthermore, it is necessary for everyone to look at those stories and get inspired to push for a safer, cleaner and better managed workplace everywhere.

What are the types of waste?

Your food, clothes and habits have categories. They have a particular kind or groups in which they belong to, so as waste. Classifying wastes in their different types helps you to think and practice how to dispose them properly so that you can prevent unwanted accidents to happen, that may harm both humans and the environment.

There are five types of waste that you can find in the workplace that have similarities to the waste which you can find at home.

Liquid Waste

Liquid waste is one of the commonly found waste at work and at home. Wash water, dirty water, and organic liquids are some of this waste. Liquid waste is also classified into two types: point and non-point source pollution.  According to National Geographic, “The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines point source pollution as any contaminant that enters the environment from an easily identified and confined place”.

Industries such as garment factories are examples of this. On the other hand, non-point source pollution comes from different areas that cannot be easily identify which is a common problem in highly urbanized places or even in rural areas.

Organic Waste

Organic waste is a very familiar waste that you can find at workplace. Some examples of these are food scraps, wood and leaves. Although, they actually decompose, it does not mean that mixing them with solid waste is a good idea. They are biodegradable materials.

Solid Waste

Solid waste can be biodegradable or non-biodegradable materials. This waste is classified as paper or card waste, plastic waste, metal scraps or tin cans, glass and ceramics. The paper or card waste is composed of printed papers, paper bags, card board, boxes, calling cards and other. Paper waste can be re-used in packaging so that it won’t end to the landfill.

The plastic waste consists of plastic bags, pet bottles, pen cases, plastic lids and many more. Plastic waste is classified as non-biodegradable material. It can also be re-used or recycled into new materials.

You can also find tin cans and metal scraps which are commonly found in construction sites. They can be recycled or sold to junk shop too.

Glasses and ceramics are types of waste which are difficult to be recycled in the workplace. Although they are not commonly found in the workplace, they are also counted as one of the types of waste at work in most fields.

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste is a type of waste that can pose harm to public health and environment. Hazardous waste can be toxic, flammable, reactive and corrosive. Examples of hazardous waste are used diapers, sanitary napkins, chemicals, hospital waste and many more.

Given these types of waste, you can now identify the waste that you may encounter in your workplace. Separate and dispose each type of waste at work properly so you will work more efficiently and safely.

What is the common waste at work?

Common waste at work may vary, depending of what workplace that you are working at. So, the waste that is common to your workplace is not the same with what other’s workplace has. The following are examples of workplaces’ common waste.

Industry/ SectorType of workWaste generated
Construction, Demolition and RenovationLand-Clearing, Wrecking, and Demolition   Heavy Construction     Carpentry and Floorwork         Paint Preparation and Painting         Specialty Contracting ActivitiesIgnitable or toxic wreckage and debris, and lead pipe   Asphalt wastes, petroleum distillates, and used oil. (Asphalt is widely recycled.)   Acetone, adhesives, coatings, methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), methyl isobutyl ketone (MIK), mineral spirits, solvents, toluene, treated wood, trichloroethylene, and xylene Acetone, chlorobenzene, glazes, methanol, MEK, methylene chloride, paint, petroleum distillates, pigments, solvents, stripping compounds, toluene, and wastewater Acetone, adhesives, coatings, hexachloroethane, kerosene, MEK, MIK, pigments, solvents, toluene, wastewater, and xylene
Dry CleaningPerc Plants (Chemicals Used: Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene) Perc Plants (Chemicals Used: Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene Perc Plants (Chemicals Used: Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene) Perc Plants (Chemicals Used: Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene) Perc Plants (Chemicals Used: Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene) Non-Perc Plants (Chemicals Used: Trichloroethane (TCA) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFC-133))  Spent Solvents     Spent Filter Cartridges     Distillation Residues     Cooked Power Residues     Spent Filter Cartridges       Distillation Residues
Educational and Vocationa ShopslAutomobile engine and body repair, metalworking, graphic arts-plate preparation, woodworkingIgnitable wastes, solvent wastes, acids/bases, paint wastes
Equipment RepairDegreasing, equipment cleaning, rust removal, paint preparation, painting, paint removal, spray booth, spray guns, and brush cleaning.Acids/bases, toxic wastes, ignitable wastes, paint wastes, solvents
Furniture Manufacturing and RefinishingConstruction and Surface Preparatio         Staining and painting     Finishing     Brush and spray gun cleaning    Acetone, alcohols, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, methanol, methylene chloride, mineral spirits, oxalic acid, petroleum distillates, toluene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and xylene Acetone, alcohols, methanol, methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone, petroleum distillates, pigments, toluene, and VOCs Alcohols, petroleum distillates, pigments, toluene, toluene diisocyanate, VOCs, wastewater, and xylene Acetone, alcohols, isopropanol, methanol, methylene chloride, mineral spirits, petroleum distillates, toluene, and VOCs
LaboratoriesDiagnostic and other laboratory testingSpent solvents, unused reagents, reaction products, testing samples, contaminated materials
Leather manufacturingSoaking   Hair Removal, Deliming, Bating     Tanning Retanning, Dyeing, Fatliquoring   Buffing coating                           Product storage  High volume of wastewater and suspended solids              Alkaline wastewater, ammonium sulfate, calcium hydroxide, hydrogen sulfide, suspended solids, and toxic sulfides Chromium, acid and alkaline salts, and acids Chromium, kerosene, solvent and dye overspray, solvent still bottoms, toluene, and toxic dyes Alcohols (methanol, ethanol, propanol, butanol, diacetone alcohol), chromium in leather dust, esters (ethyl, propyl, and butyl acetates), glycol ethers (butoxyethanol and propoxyethanol), ketones (methyl isobutyl ketone, acetone, cyclohexanone, di-isobutyl ketone), methyl ethyl ketone, solvent overspray, solvent still bottoms, toluene, volatile organic air emissions and xylene D001 (methyl ethyl ketone, solvent overspray, solvent still bottoms, and toluene), Chromium, kerosene, methyl ethyl ketone, trichloroethylene, and toluene
Motor frieght and railroad transportationUnloading and Cleaning Tank Trucks and Rail Cars         Degreasing, Parts Washing, Rust Removal                Painting         Spray gun, spray booth, brush cleaning          Parts replacement   Maintenance and fluid replacement       Storage of Cleaning ChemicalsAcid or alkaline cleaners, ethyl benzene, residuals (heels) from shipment of product or hazardous waste, residues from wastewater treatment, spent solvents, volatile organic emissions, and wastewater Ammonium hydroxide, benzene, chromic acid, hydrobromic acid, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, methylene chloride, mineral spirits, nitric acid, oil or grease, petroleum distillates, phosphoric acid, potassium hydroxide, rags containing solvents or grease, sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid, toluene, toxic metals, volatile organic constituents, wastewaters, and sludges Alcohols, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, methylene chloride, mineral spirits, paint pigments, petroleum distillates, volatile organic compounds, wastewater, and xylene Acetone, alcohols, isopropanol, methanol, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, methylene chloride, mineral spirits, paint pigments, petroleum distillates, toluene, and volatile organic constituents Batteries (lead acid, nickel cadmium, nickel, iron, carbonate), scrap metal, and used tires Fluids contaminated with heavy metals, radiator flushing solutions, used oil, and used oil filters    D002 (flushing solution), D008 (contaminated fluids), and D018 (contaminated Acetone, hydrofluoric acid, methanol, methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, mineral spirits, toluene, and xylene
Pesticides End Users and Application ServicesPesticide application and cleanupUsed/unused pesticides, solvent wastes, ignitable wastes, contaminated soil (from spills), contaminated rinsewater, empty containers
Photo processingProcessing and Developing Negatives and Prints (including bleach-fix, untreated tires, beach-fixers, reversal bleaches used in plumbingless minilabs, reversal bleaches, and system cleaners)   Washing   stabilizing   System Cleaner     Storing productsSilver             Silver   Silver   Acid regenerates, system cleaners, and photographic activators (D002), dichromate based cleaners Off-specification chemicals that are RCRA hazardous for corrosivity or ignitability
PrintingUsing Ink in Lithography, Letterpress, Screen Printing, Flexography, and Gravure             Plate processing     Cleaning printing equipment             Developing negative and prints     Printing processesWaste ink with chromium, barium, and lead content; and waste ink contaminated with cleaning solvents, such as trichloroethylene, methylene chloride, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride, 1,1,2-trichloroethane, 1,2,3-trifluoroethane, chlorobenzene, xylene, acetone, methanol, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), toluene, carbon disulfide, or benzene Acid plate etching chemicals for metallic lithographic plates, and flexographic photopolymer plates Spent organic solvents might include trichloroethylene, methylene chloride, 1,1,1- trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride, 1,1,2-trichloroethane, 1,2,3-trifluoroethane, chlorobenzene, xylene, acetone, methanol, MEK, toluene, carbon disulfide, or benzene Waste photochemical solutions from fixer and rinsewater and from alkaline or acid process baths Unused inks, solvents, and other chemicals used in printing industry
Textile ManufacturingBleaching   Mercerizing   Equipment maintenanceHydrogen peroxide, sodium silicate, and organic stabilizer Alkali and sodium hydroxide.   Tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, methylene chloride, chlorobenzene, toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, benzene, xylene, ethylene dichloride, isopropyl alcohol, and mineral spirits (naptha)
Vehicle MaintenanceAir Conditioner Maintenance    Battery replacement     Body repair refinishing   Car washing     Oil and Fluid Replacement         Tire Replacement     Rustproofing, Painting, and Paint Removal;       Parts washing and Degreasing       Product storage and storage tank Cleaning   Radiator Repair        Shop CleanupDichlorodifluoromethane (CFC-12) Lead dross, zinc, copper, and spent sulfuric acid     Scrap metal   Methylene chloride, trichloroethylene, aromatic, and chlorinated hydrocarbons Used oil, oil filters, and fuel filters contaminated with cadmium, chromium, lead, benzopyrene; ethylene glycol (antifreeze) contaminated with lead; petroleum distillates; and chlorinated hydrocarbons Scrap tires   Spent halogenated and nonhalogenated solvents such as acetone, toluene, benzene,xylene, methanol, methylene chloride, isopropyl alcohol; waste paint thinner and paint; paint filters; and spent rags and wipes Benzene, phosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, sodium hydroxide, heavy metals, petroleum distillates, and spent rags and wipes Various solvents and petroleum products potentially outdated or off-specification Zinc chloride (coolant), chlorinated solvents, and lead solder Used oil and drain or sump sludges contaminated with metals, petroleum, solvents, and spent rags and wipes

Based on the data presented above, most workplaces have the tendency to produce hazardous waste. Knowing this, it is necessary to come up with a plan on how to address this in your workplace because this type of waste should not be automatically put in the landfill as they can pose a lot of dangers to the public.

This type of waste is also recyclable. And recycling them is truly beneficial for your workplace. The Environmental Protection Agency of United States stresses that recycling hazardous waste can help ” reducing the consumption of raw materials and the volume of waste materials that must be treated and disposed”.

Another waste that is typically produce in the workplace is office waste. According to Lake Macquarie Skips, the most common office waste that you can find if you are working in the office are paper and printing products, office equipment and miscellaneous waste. Obviously, paper and printing products are the primary waste that you can find in office as it needs to print, send and record documents for the operation. In fact, the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance states that  the average office worker used 10, 000 sheets of copy paper each year. In United States alone, nearly 3.7 million tons of copy paper are used annually.

Another is the defective equipment such  as computers, printers, and wires that could no longer be used. These equipment are also considered hazardous if not store or disposed properly. Miscellaneous waste such as paper cups and disposable utensils are also common waste that you can find in offices because workers usually use them during breaks.

If office waste will not be monitored and reduced in your workplace, this will add unnecessary expenses to your workplace’s budget resulting to misspend of resources.

What are the dangers do workers face due to waste?

Aside from the expenses and misspending of resources that waste at work can do to your business, it can also cause dangers to workers like you. The Department of Health & Human Services of Victoria, Australia listed  common hazardous substance that are present in your workplace. These substances are also present in the waste you have in your workplace. These substances are:

  • acids
  • caustic substances
  • disinfectants
  • glues
  • heavy metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium and aluminium
  • paint
  • pesticides
  • petroleum products
  • solvents

Various level of exposure to these substances can cause serious health problems. Individuals may suffer the following:

  • Poisoning – Swallowing one the said substances will poison you that will cause internal injury and will lead to death.
  • Nausea and vomiting-  When you happen to inhale or swallow one of the substances, you may experience stomach distress and vomit which are not pleasant experience.
  • Headache- inhaling it can cause you headache that may not be bearable.
  • Skin rashes, such as dermatitis- the splash of the said substances on your skin may damage your akin resulting to skin rashes or other skin problem.
  • Chemical burns- this can be an injury in your skin, eyes or internal organ brought by exposure to substances.
  • Birth defects- if you are pregnant,  health problems may result to birth defect caused by your exposure to hazardous chemicals.
  • Disorders of the lung, kidney or liver- swallowing the harmful substances can affect your internal organ such as lung or liver disorder.
  • Nervous system disorders- this can be a result after your exposure to the harmful substances as they can affect the coordination of your nervous system. Hence, it can be developed to nervous system disorders.
  • Blindness- exposing your eyes to substances can result to your lose of sight as the substances can burn your eyes.

These are just some of the health risks that waste can cause to you and your workplace. Thus, it is important that these dangers brought about by waste should be recognized and properly addressed. If your company can address the issue of waste at work, it can result to achieving good corporate stewardship, saving spaces and resources and supporting others in conserving the environment.

What industries suffer the most from waste pollution?

The most affected workers when it comes to waste pollution are no other than the workers working in the waste collection industry. Waste workers are the ones who collect the waste that you produce at home and at workplace. They are the ones who can first-hand experience the danger that the waste can bring . According to a study entitled, Waste Workers and Occupational Health Risk by Baral YR, “global evidence suggests that informal waste recycling is carried out by poor and marginalized social groups who resort to waste picking for income generation and some even for everyday survival”.

These waste workers collect plastics, bottles, papers and other scraps. Sometimes, they are not aware that the materials that they collect contains hazardous chemicals. Some of these waste workers have no protective gear and their workplaces are not well regulated.  This is due to the fact that these waste workers are actually working on their own and labeled themselves as self employed individuals which is very common for waste workers in developing countries such as the Philippines. This makes them more vulnerable to health risk.

According to an article in BMC Public Health, waste pickers are vulnerable to work accidents and diseases caused by waste at work. The article states:

“One thousand twenty-five waste pickers undertook tests and interviews. The majority were women (67.0%), with 36–45 years old (45.7%), and 96.0% had children. In total, 27.3% of the participants did not attend to any school and 47.7% were educated only up to primary level. The majority of waste pickers (68.70%) reported accidents and most of them (89.69%) were related to sharp objects. The mean time working in this open dump was 15 years. According the anthropometric measure, 32.6% were overweight and 21.1% were obese. The most common reported diseases were: osteomuscular disorders (78.7%); arboviruses (28.6%); episodic diarrhea (24.9%); hypertension (24.2%); bronchitis (14.3%); intestinal worms (12.6%) and diabetes (10.1%). According to the blood tests, the values outside the reference limits were: Uric acid (23.89%); creatinine (54.06%); GGT range (16.04%); SGOT – Serum Glutamic Oxaloacetic Transaminase (5.29%); SGPT – serum Glutamic-Pyruvic Transaminase (35.52%)”.

In the same article, it was cited that South Sudan, Africa, evidences suggested that the waste pickers who were working with recyclable materials have the possibility of developing pulmonary diseases, HIV and hepatitis C as the outcome of contact with sharp items and hazardous health waste.

Moroever, waste pickers as waste workers are one of those low wage earners especially in developing countries. This is a clear manifestation of economic inequality and inequity since they face great danger as low earners. Knowing that your workplace is also contributing to this great disparity, it is about time to rethink of how you and your company can reduce waste at work.

After learning about the stories of waste at work, let this be a call to action for all people to change. Let us be better stewards of the environment and work together to provide solutions to this global challenge.

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