Program Background

Hazardous Material and Waste in Washington State

What exactly is the problem? How big is it? What are the issues? What are we doing about it?

Chronic exposure to chemicals in our homes and businesses is a significant health risk as well as very costly to businesses and society due to increased costs associated with health care, environmental degradation, insurance and liability.

There is growing understanding that many of the products we use contain hazardous substances that pose a threat to human and environmental health. Examples include switches and fluorescent light bulbs (mercury); computers and other electronics (lead, mercury, and brominated flame retardants); upholstery and mattresses (brominated flame-retardants). (Washington State's Beyond Waste Project: background summary document, Reducing Small-Volume Hazardous Materials and Wastes).

As part of the Pollution in People project, ten people in Washington state – from young moms to state senators – were tested for toxic chemicals in their bodies and the results may surprise you...

For example, Endocrine disruptors are chemicals — both man-made and naturally occurring — that mimic or block hormones in the endocrine system, interfering with the body's normal regulation of bodily functions. We are exposed to endocrine disruptors in much of our everyday life. Most at risk are the developing bodies of fetuses, babies and children. Some of the potential health effects include:

  • Reduced male and female fertility
  • Abnormal male reproductive organs
  • Early puberty and early reproductive aging in females
  • Breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers

Synthetic chemicals are found in almost everything we purchase — food, plastics, toys, furniture, clothing, computers, appliances, pesticides, household cleaners, and cosmetics.

Rising population, combined with a rise in disposable products and synthetic chemicals, places increased demands on our communities and the environment.

According to the state Office of Financial Management, population in Washington is projected to increase by 2.34 million people by the year 2030. Waste generation is predicted to increase at an even greater rate. Advances in science and technology will continue to provide opportunities for the creation of thousands of new chemical compounds. (Ecology Beyond Waste website)

Intentional and unintentional releases of automotive fluids and home pesticides have degraded the water quality of local streams in Washington. Wastewater treatment systems are designed for easily biodegraded waste decomposition and do not effectively treat many synthetic and metal bearing wastes. Scientists have found medicines in surface, ground and marine waters as well as soils and sediments in the Pacific Northwest.

The term moderate-risk waste (MRW) is used in Washington to classify hazardous wastes from ...households and businesses generating small quantities, although this term can be misleading because these wastes are not necessarily moderate in their risks to human health and the environment. (Background Paper for Beyond Waste Summary Document, pg 5. (PDF) Businesses which generate small quantities of hazardous waste are also known as "Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators" (CESQGs) and "Small Quantity Generators" (SQGs).

Businesses that are commonly SQGs include auto repair shops, dry cleaners, dentists, jewelers, printers, property managers, small manufacturers, and veterinarians – because they may use materials that contain hazardous chemicals and may generate hazardous wastes – wastes that are corrosive, flammable, reactive and/or toxic. (Dangerous Waste Regulations, WAC 173-303-071 [3] [c].

Washington State's Waste Reduction Plan: A 30 year Vision

"We can transition to a society where waste is viewed as inefficient, and where most wastes and toxic substances have been eliminated. This will contribute to economic, social and environmental vitality." Review the Plan >>

Local Moderate Risk Waste Programs

Prompted by citizen demand, Washington state directed local governments to create plans to manage hazardous wastes produced by households and, in small quantity, by businesses and other organizations. In 1991, local governments and agencies created and began implementation of Local Moderate Risk Waste Programs.

The Beyond Waste State Plan has 5 major initiatives..."Reducing Small-Volume Hazardous Materials and Wastes" was chosen as one of the major initiatives because of the need to reduce toxics in the environment and the significant costs involved in managing MRW after it is produced.

Auto RepairTotal Moderate Risk Waste collected and managed by Local MRW programs in 2008 was just more than over 31.1 million pounds. (2008 Moderate Risk Waste Management report, chapter 5, (PDF)

EnviroStars: Part of the Solution

EnviroStars was created as a service of the Moderate Risk Waste program in King County (also known as the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program or LHWMP), and has since been adopted in counties across Washington State.

The EnviroStars Program gives small businesses incentives and positive recognition for reducing hazardous materials and waste, in order to protect public health, municipal systems, and the environment.

We find that most small business owners and employees want to do the "right thing", but aren't clear about what that is when it comes to hazardous wastes and environmental regulations. In addition to assisting businesses understand and meet compliance expectations, EnviroStars certification helps the business to focus on a wide variety of ways to operate more efficiently, with fewer hazardous materials and wastes, and to put systems in place that are environmentally responsible and sustainable.

EnviroStars CoopBy choosing local EnviroStars certified businesses, you reinforce better business practices – which in turn creates healthier, safer communities and motivates more businesses to "work green" in order to attract, or keep, you as a customer.

The EnviroStars model was specifically called out in the Toxics Reduction Advisory Committee recommendations report provided to the Legislature in 2008.

Task 1: Help businesses achieve a 50 percent toxics use reduction goal; recommendation 1-9 (PDF)
Implement a statewide incentive-based certification/recognition program based on the regional EnviroStars program. (Toxics Reduction Advisory Committee Findings and Recommendations, 2008)

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