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Hazardous waste

Hazardous waste poses significant risks to human health and can severely contaminate the local environment. In regions lacking regulatory oversight and established waste management systems, organisations have an even greater responsibility to mitigate the risks associated with hazardous waste and safeguard the environment.

Why is it important?

The European Environment Agency defines hazardous waste as “Any waste or combination of wastes with the potential to damage human health, living organisms or the environment.” (1) Hazardous waste includes chemical waste (solvents, toners), electronic waste, some medical waste (laboratory, syringes) and garage waste (oil, brake fluids, car batteries), batteries, agricultural waste such as pesticides or fertilizers, cooling gases and liquids, certain types of building waste like solvents but also radioactive or explosive waste (2).

Mismanaged hazardous waste is a serious threat to soil, air and water quality and increases the risk of disease propagation (4). According to the WHO mismanaged waste is likely to increase mortality and the occurrence of cancer, reproductive health troubles, and well-being (3).

What is the solution?

Reinforced waste management principle must be applied to hazardous waste: as identifying, monitoring, reducing, reusing, recycling, and ensuring the final responsible treatment of waste. Collect and sort ensuring appropriate protective measures and store separately from other waste in line with specific requirements depending on the type of waste. Recycling using professional and regulated structures can save raw material and contribute to a circular economy. As a last resort, ensure final disposal is adapted to the type of hazardous waste, legally authorized, and safe for human and environmental health.

Key facts

Between 4.5% and 9%

of municipal solid waste worldwide can be considered hazardous waste (5)

3.4 billion

tons of waste produced worldwide by 2050 if urgent action is not taken (6)

95.5 million

tons of hazardous waste were produced in the EU in 2020, corresponding to 4.4 % of all EU waste (7)

74.7 million

tonnes of hazardous waste were treated in the EU in 2020 (7)


recovery rate of hazardous waste treated in the EU in 2020: 38.5 % by recycling or backfilling and 8.3 % incinerated with energy recovery (7)

Key actions

  • #1 Apply waste management principles

    For all types of waste, respect the following waste management principles:

    1. Identify and monitor the waste generated.
    2. Avoid and Reduce waste.
    3. Repair, reuse items.
    4. Sort, store and collect waste properly.
    5. Recycle waste.
    6. Ensure responsible final treatment.
    7. Raise staff awareness.
  • #2 Ensure waste separation and safe storage

    Apply reinforced control to separate and safely store hazardous waste. Work only with authorised, insured, and qualified waste handlers. Keep records of hazardous waste (usually 3 years), from supplier to transport and disposal site.

  • #3 Electronic waste

    Waste from Electric and Electronic equipment (WEEE) may be repairable and recyclable. Raw material can be recovered from old devices. Consider donating equipment that can still be used. See the WEEE solution factsheet.

  • #4 Garage waste

    Some garage waste, like oil, fuel, or battery residue are considered hazardous and require specific treatment. See factsheet “garage waste”.

  • #5 Medical waste

    Medical waste management involves measures such as high temperature incineration, autoclaving, decontamination, burial of dangerous pathogens or items like needles, sterilisation of reusable equipment, etc. See forthcoming factsheet on “Medical Waste”.

  • #6 Chemical waste

    Chemical waste from construction (such as solvents and paint), laboratories, or the industrial sector, as well as substances like chlorine or detergents, requires a specialised handling and disposal strategy. See forthcoming factsheet on “Chemical waste”.

  • #7 Battery waste

    As global demand for batteries grows, the pressure on raw materials continues to grow. Recycling batteries emerges as an important solution to mitigate the environmental impact and conserve precious raw materials. See forthcoming factsheet on “Battery waste”.

  • #8 Refrigerant gases

    Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) commonly used in fridges and air conditioning, have a high global warming potential. Appliances containing refrigerant gases must be carefully decommissioned by professionals. See forthcoming factsheet on “Cooling gas waste”.

Tools and good practices

  • Educational video about hazardous waste, 2023

    Presents hazardous waste and methLearn what hazardous waste is. Discover the potential dangers of different types of hazardous waste and their proper disposal methods.

    Explore here
  • Video on Hazardous waste Don’t Waste waste Campaign, 2017

    Explains what hazardous waste means, and how to dispose it.

    Explore here
  • Classification of hazardous waste from UK government

    List of waste type and their classification as hazardous or not. Other UK guidelines also available on hazardous waste disposal.

    Explore here
  • Oxfam technical brief on Hazardous waste, 2008

    Short guideline to handle and store Hazardous waste. It covers hospital waste, industrial waste, chemical, asbestos, batteries, gas canisters.

    Explore here
  • MSF France exports its hazardous waste produced in Haiti operations to be treated in USA, 2014

    MSF France in Haiti exported between 2011 and 2013 10 tons of hazardous waste from the different MSF offices to be treated in USA, including 4.6 tons of batteries, 1.7 tons of oil, and 1.5 tons of out-of-date medicine for a total cost of 50 000 USD.

    Explore here

To go further

  • A critical review on sustainable hazardous waste management strategies, Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, 2023

    A comprehensive review of hazardous waste production and how its management can fit in circular economy objectives like recycling or energy recovery.

    Explore here
  • An Assessment Report on Issues of Concern: Chemicals and Waste Issues Posing Risks to Human Health and the Environment, UNEP, 2019

    UNEP explores eight environmental issues linked to hazardous waste.

    Explore here


(1) GEMET Thesaurus, ‘hazardous waste’. in Available here [accessed 8 April 2024].

(2) Government Digital Service, ‘Hazardous waste’. in UK, 2012. Available here.

(3) Europe, WHORO for, ‘Waste and human health: evidence and needs: WHO meeting report 5–6 November 2015: Bonn, Germany’. in, 2015. Available here [accessed 8 April 2024].

(4) Hasan, MA, J Mallick, M Ahmed, & M Saleem, ‘Hazardous Wastes and its Impact on Human Health’. in IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 804, 2020, 012056. Available here.

(5) Kumar, A, AK Thakur, Gajendra Kumar Gaurav, Jiří Jaromír Klemeš, Vishal Kumar Sandhwar, KK Pant, et al., ‘A critical review on sustainable hazardous waste management strategies: a step towards a circular economy’. in Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 2023. Available here.

(6) The World Bank, ‘Global Waste to Grow by 70 Percent by 2050 Unless Urgent Action is Taken: World Bank Report’. in World Bank, 2018. Available here.

(7) Eurostat, ‘Waste statistics’. in, 2020. Available here.

Cover photo: John Cameron/Unsplash