Sustainability is a term often used around the world. Most companies commit to sustainability. Many individuals make “sustainable” choices in their daily lives, but what defines “sustainability”? Sustainability spans multiple personal and corporate citizenship areas, generally covering social and environmental issues.
Do you know how your company defines sustainability?
Veolia has three divisions: Waste, Water, and Environment. These business units are service ends to companies on five continents and varying industries. The company helps its customers with their environmental commitments through a circular economy philosophy by thinking locally through these business units. Veolia operates the local treatment plant on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, treating 13 million gallons of wastewater each day. Through joint efforts with the water authority, the facility turns 92% of that into usable water for industrial and landscaping use instead of treating the water and pumping it into local waterways, which is common in wastewater treatment. Recycling this water reduces the amount of waste going into the environment and reduces the island’s dependency on natural resources. Veolia has also installed new equipment to lower the demand for electricity in their treatment process. This investment helps reduce the waste created at the local power generating station and stabilizes the electrical grid, reducing the chance of shortages. Through this example, Veolia and its customer have minimized water and energy consumption and reduced the amount of waste going into the environment by understanding the local needs of the island and working within all of its areas of business.
Like the Oahu, many companies and institutions have a stated ‘Corporate Sustainability Pledge’ or something similar for their impact on the environment in the areas of ‘Water’, ‘Energy’ and ‘Waste’ with an annual or biennial report that details their goals and performance towards those goals. These companies measure their water and energy usage, take whatever steps feasible to reduce their use, and report on their efforts and findings. While the efforts to reduce waste in these areas may not be easy, the changes control the end-user as they would be localized to their locations and processes.
Waste management, however, can be a little more complicated. While waste reduction is the best and should be the first method for waste-related environmental stewardship, the waste site’s direction is inevitable. Many companies have decided on no waste to landfill as their sustainability pledge for waste. Other companies have stated they will recycle everything possible. Both of these mandates appear to be significant decisions but determining the actual environmental impact from each landfill, recycling, or other waste treatment method can be tricky as you must rely on the environmental commitments of the waste treatment company.
What Are Waste Disposal Options there?
There are several ways to treat waste. Many are familiar, like landfill or incineration. Some may not be so familiar, like chemical reduction with or without precipitation or wet air oxidation. These are approved treatment methods by the USEPA for particular hazardous wastes. The full table of treatment options can be found here (“Management Method,” n.d., p.3). While all of the waste at your site is certainly not hazardous, using the EPA’s list of treatment options will cover non-hazardous waste as well. The table has four sections: Reclamation and Recovery, Destruction or Treatment Before Disposal at Another Site, Disposal, and Transfer Off-Site.
Reclamation and Recovery are what EPA identifies as recycling. These treatment technologies turn waste material into a product. Examples include a fuel made from old solvents, a metal bar of palladium taken from computer chips, and electricity generated through incineration waste.
Destruction or Treatment Before Disposal at Another Site includes chemical and physical treatment before disposal. A waste incinerator is a treatment facility and not a disposal facility unless it has an onsite landfill attached. Wastes treated through any of the treatment technologies in this section are then transferred to the next area for final disposal.
Disposal identifies the final disposition of the material which was not recycled. As you can see, all waste that is not recycled per the technologies listed under Reclamation and Recovery is either landfilled or released to our water system after treatment.
Transfer Off-Site is used for waste received at an intermittent facility and is awaiting transshipment to another facility. Think of the town transfer station you may have brought an old television to from your own house.
So why not just send everything to Reclamation and Recovery? There is more to consider.
- Are there regulatory considerations for each type of waste;
- Are there regulatory considerations at each treatment/disposal facility;
- Are there other environmental impacts that affect the treatment of each waste type;
In the next blog post, we’ll discuss these variables and others which will help your team make the best decisions around hazardous, chemical and biological waste disposal, as well as create a formula to determine the actual environmental impact.
To the members of MassBio, Veolia provides clean energy and water, responsible waste disposal solutions, sustainability and environmental consulting, and labor support in the areas of environmental and energy management. With experience working with the largest pharmaceutical companies worldwide, as well as experience helping labs get started, Veolia understands the pressures life science companies face in establishing good environmental stewardship programs.
More on the efforts in Oahu and other examples of Veolia’s ecological stewardship can be found on Veolia’s website under sustainability. Learn more on Veolia’s Corporate Sustainability Report. The page can be found here.
USEPA. “Management Method.” RCRAInfo, https://rcrainfo.epa.gov/rcrainfo-help/application/ded/nationallydefinedvalues/biennialreportmodule/ndvbiennialreportmanagementmethod.htm. Accessed 21 February 2022.
Business Development Manager, Veolia North America
Brian Boissonneault works with Veolia in its environmental business unit of North America. He has over twenty years of experience providing waste management tools to biotechnology companies who wish to reduce their environmental impact through sustainable waste management.