What’s the Difference between Toxic and Hazardous Waste?

Many times the labels “toxic waste” and “hazardous waste” are used interchangeably. People outside the hazardous waste industry often use them to label anything that poses environmental or public health threat. It generally gets thrown under the umbrella of hazardous or toxic waste, even though it’s not truly accurate. Even many people in the industry misuse these labels when referring to different wastes.

It’s important to know from federal and state regulatory standpoint, hazardous waste and toxic waste not always the same thing.  Since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors and enforces U.S. regulation on different types of waste, we’ll use them as the source for our definition.

EPA Definition of Hazardous Waste

According to the EPA, “a solid waste is considered hazardous waste if it’s specifically listed as a known hazardous waste or meets the characteristics of a hazardous waste.”  Wastes listed come from common manufacturing and industrial processes, can be generated from discarded commercial products or comes from specific industries.

If waste doesn’t appear on listed wastes group, it should be labeled hazardous if it meets 1 or more of 4 waste characteristics:

  • Ignitability
  • Corrosivity
  • Reactivity
  • Toxicity

A waste characteristic describes a specific way that the waste can be potentially hazardous.

According to EPA, toxic waste is only waste “that is harmful or fatal to living organisms when absorbed or ingested”. Hazardous waste is the lower level of potentially harmful substances, toxic is higher. Hazardous waste can be, but isn’t necessarily toxic. All toxic waste is hazardous.

How are Hazardous and Toxic Wastes Regulated?

RCRA- Resource conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) are the 2 main pieces of legislation that regulate hazardous and toxic waste.

EPA generally uses the designation that any waste “potentially hazardous to human health or the environmental if not properly managed” is considered hazardous waste.

These materials are then regulated using through the EPA to ensure safe disposal and management.

There is a specific act in place to monitor toxic wastes, called the Toxic Substances Control Act. This law is constructed with a specific focus on reducing or eliminating harm to the public caused by toxic materials such as asbestos, radon, lead-based paint, etc.

For more information on hazardous waste disposal or toxic waste disposal, please contact HWH Environmental at 1-877-777-6708.