What Are the Four Characteristics of Hazardous Waste?

The process of manufacturing all types of products tends to produce some form of waste. Sometimes, it is nothing to worry about because it is not dangerous to man or the environment. This type includes plastic and paper and is usually recyclable, so companies always have a way to keep it from becoming a nuisance.

However, there is a type of waste that proves harmful to all living things and the planet. It is as much in existence as those that are not so harmful. This type is termed hazardous wastes, and many industries produce them without always having a way to dispose of them. It may not be immediately harmful, but over time, it will become highly toxic and cause irreparable damage to the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies hazardous waste into four categories, and these categories all have codes or regulations to handle and dispose of them. Using these categories, it is possible to know the four characteristics of hazardous waste and what to do about each one.

Characteristics of Hazardous Waste

The following are the characteristics that make hazardous waste easily recognizable:


Ignitability is the potential or capacity to burn or create fires. In other words, it is hazardous waste’s combustibility. Such wastes can cause a fire under the right conditions and usually has a flashpoint that is less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. An example is an oil thrown out from factories.

If it is in solid form, consider friction, sudden chemical changes, and its capacity to absorb moisture. These will determine whether or not it burns quickly or creates a dangerous situation when ignited.

Liquid waste works with a flashpoint. It is a temperature point where enough of it evaporates to generate vapor that is combustible in the air. The exposure of liquid to certain temperatures may cause it to become a danger to the environment.


Corrosive waste is that which can corrode storage containers such as tanks and drums. It usually has a pH of less than 2; at most, it equals 2. On the higher side, it has a pH higher than 12.5.

Think of the acid in any type of battery, such as a car battery; it can cause irreparable damage to the skin and can corrode any object in its path. Most of this type is liquid, but you can also find solid ones.


This type of waste is, perhaps, the most common one. It is that which becomes dangerous when it is absorbed or ingested. Lead is a typical example of toxic waste. If it is thrown out on land and flows to groundwater, it will destroy every living thing that feeds from the water. This is part of the reason you hear about lead poisoning.


Reactive waste is highly volatile, even under the best condition. It can combust or explode because of slight friction, compression, heat, or mixture with water. It can also generate toxic fumes, vapors, and gases that undermine human health. Read this article to learn more about the characteristics of these substances.

Hazardous Waste Listing

Hazardous Waste Listing

The Environmental Protection Agency lists hazardous waste under four primary lists: F, K, P, and U. The Agency separates the lists into two groups: F and K lists, and P and U lists. Under the F and K lists, you will find specific and non-specific wastes. The K list has those from specific sectors and is called ‘source-specific waste’. The F list, on the other hand, has those from non-specific sectors.

Examples of those on the K list can come from the manufacture of explosives, formulation of ink, preservation of wood, refining petroleum products, and production of iron and steel. Examples of those on the F list are used solvents, waste from preserving wood, wastes carrying dioxin, and multisource leachate. Click here: https://ehs.cornell.edu/ to read more on these products and how to classify them.

The disposables that make up the P and U lists are specific unused chemicals of commercial and pure grade formulations designated for disposal. The EPA uses certain criteria to determine whether or not they fit into these lists. These criteria are:

  • It must contain chemicals of the commercial product type
  • It must contain unused chemicals.
  • The chemical must be part of the P list or U list


As long as the manufacturing and refining processes continue, there will always be hazardous wastes. While the world is getting used to having them around, it helps to ensure the industries and factories always have an excellent disposal method.

Their primary characteristics are ignitability, reactivity, toxicity, and corrosivity. Fortunately, this classification makes it easier to know how to dispose of each category without causing harm. In addition, it helps to know how to store it while awaiting disposal.