Waste material may be characterized as being either hazardous or non-hazardous in terms of its effect on humans and the environment. According to WHMIS 2015 standards, waste is considered hazardous based on characteristics related to being: flammable, corrosive, toxic, reactive or infectious. Non-hazardous material can be safely disposed of via the building garbage collection system (goes to landfill) or via the sewer if it is water-soluble.
Materials that are considered hazardous must either be:
(1) rendered harmless by the user before disposal as non hazardous waste (e.g. autoclaving infectious material) or, (2) sent for disposal to a facility that will process the material appropriately (e.g. high temperature incineration). The office of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of Alberta (EH&S) offers such a service that is 'free' to members of the university.
It is important that we are responsible in how we dispose of our wastes since we do not want to simply export our problem into our neighbor's backyard. We expect the same consideration from our neighbors.
2. Disposal of non-hazardous material into the sewer system or the building garbage: back to top
What you may dispose of by the sewer system or solid garbage are small mounts (a few grams or milliliters) of non-hazardous chemicals (having very low toxicity). For the sewer, they must be soluble in water and could include things like: dilutes salt solutions, dilute acids or bases (solution pH must be between 6 and 10) or small amounts of alcohols like ethanol or isopropanol (miscible with water). Small volumes (milliliter) of volatile solutions may be evaporated in a fume hood if they are low hazard (e.g. methanol, acetone, toluene) but things like benzene (carcinogenic) should be sent to EH&S. For larger quantities of even low hazard chemicals, dispose of them through the EH&S service.
There is legislation governing the use of the sewage system and landfills in Alberta. The municipal bylaw was updated in January 2018 and now includes a detailed list of fines for offenses that escalate quickly after the second infraction.
1. Municipal bylaw for sewer use Bylaw 18093 explicitly prohibits flammables, explosives, corrosives, mercury and oils and gives restricted quantities for several individual elements and some organics (e.g. carbon tetrachloride, phenols) and "hazardous waste" (Schedules A, B and C list prohibited and restricted items).
2. Government of Alberta regulation #192/96 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act - Waste Control Regulation: refers to restrictions on items going into landfills based on: pH, flammability and being toxic (having an oral toxicity LD50 less than 500 mg/kg or dermal toxicity less than 1000 mg/kg). These toxicity thresholds are quite conservative and would only allow things ranked as "practically nontoxic" to "slightly toxic" to be discarded into regular garbage.
3. Waste handled internally: back to top
3.1 Regular garbage:
do not place anything in the black garbage bags that:
1) is a hazardous product as defined under WHMIS 2015
(further information can be found at:
Alberta Workplace Health and Safety Bulletin or
Canadian Center for Occupational Health & Safety)
2) that might cause injury to the building services people who will move the bags to the loading dock (like syringes or broken glass in a black garbage bag)
3) is non-hazardous lab waste (micropipette tips, microfuge or centrifuge, latex gloves, etc.contaminated by aqueous salt solutions or similarly non-toxic substances). These items must be collected in translucent autoclave or heavy clear plastic bags, closed, labeled "Non-hazardous Waste" and placed next to the regular garbage cans for pickup.
3.2 Glass waste:
(clean, unbroken, not contaminated with hazardous material)
- deposit in labeled yellow pails labeled for glass disposal,
- place outside lab in corridor on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for pickup that night,
- empty pail will be left in the hallway and you can move it back into the lab.
Note: glass waste is simply collected and placed into the dumpster at the loading dock, if you have something special that does not fit in a yellow pail (e.g. a broken aquarium), you can dispose of it yourself in the dumpster.
The yellow pails labeled "Glass Waste" are available free by contacting the building Facilities Services Manager and indicating what room to leave it in.
3.3 Plastics including disposable pipettes, Petri dishes, etc:
(clean, not contaminated with hazardous material)
These can be discarded in labeled (Plastics") pails for pick up in the same manner as clean glass waste.
Recycling Glass and Plastics:
3.4 Paper/cardboard for recycling:
In the Fall of 2008, the university placed bins for recycling plastics and glass in the buildings. It is absolutely essential that lab occupants place only non-hazardous glass and plastic materials in these containers. If there is any doubt whatsoever that materials contain chemical, radioactive or biohazardous residues, then dispose of them through Chematix. At this point in time (November 2019), you may recycle lab plastics as long as they are non-hazardous.
recycling bins stations can be found in most elevator lobbies. If you have a large amount of material to discard, contact the building Facilities Services Manager to ask for bin delivery to your area on a temporary basis.
3.5 Biohazardous (infectious material): back to top
Biohazardous material normally includes living things that are pathogenic such as: bacteria, viruses, mycoplasmas, protozoans, fungi as well as their genetic material and gene products (like bacterial toxins). It also includes organisms that have been genetically modified using recombinant DNA technology. However, most all of these should be rendered harmless by the user through autoclaving before disposal via the regular garbage system.
Accumulation and handling of biohazardous waste:
The following procedure can be used to ensure that biohazards are identified properly until rendered non-hazardous:
- use a three bag system to accumulate biohazard waste. Place 2 clear autoclave bags inside an orange Biohazard bag to collect material. The orange bag identifies the material inside as hazardous.
- when 75% full, loosely tie the clear inner bags and transport it within the orange bag to the autoclave room. Orange bag stays in place right up until the material goes into the autoclave.
- the inner clear bags and contents are placed in a metal or heat rated plastic (usually Nalgene brand) tray and loaded into the autoclave. The top of the bag should be open and folded down to the surface of the waste material to allow steam to penetrate inside. Adding a cup of water to the bag just before going into the autoclave will generate steam from within the bag and help in getting a more effective kill.
- Set temperature (121ºC) and time (at least 60 minutes) to ensure a thorough killing of the entire contents. Larger volumes require a longer time for the innermost material to reach the killing temperature. Consult the autoclave manual.
- When the cycle is complete, remove the trolley and allow the bag to cool in the tray (~5 minutes) before sealing and disposing of as non-hazardous garbage. Small bags may be placed into a green garbage bag that is in a waste bin. Building Services staff will NOT pickup clear autoclave bags left on the floor so the user is responsible for getting them into the dumpster near the loading dock (G206).
- The orange Biohazard bag can be reused in the lab after installing new clear bags inside.
- Do not cover an orange Biohazard bag full of autoclaved material with a green garbage bag and place in the garbage as the Biohazard label may become visible and cause 'concern' among landfill workers.
The only way an orange Biohazard bag can be placed into the regular garbage is if it is:
- the labels and symbols have been defaced with a black marker (or the bag has been cut into pieces so that the labels are no longer intact
Soils Room Autoclave - G006:
There is a large autoclave in the basement soils room (G006, access through door Z003 or by the freight elevator) that is used primarily for killing biohazardous materials before discarding. Instructions are posted in the room.All users must be trained by the Safety Officer prior to use. Users must not leave bags in the area any longer than necessary: after removing and cooling on the trolley, the killed material must be transferred by the owner into the dumpster at the loading dock. Because of problems in the past with garbage cans overflowing with autoclaved waste, Building Services do not empty any garbage containers from this room. The owner must promptly remove it to the dumpster.
Biohazardous waste should not be left unattended in this public area. If the autoclave is not available when you arrive, take the material back to your lab and bring it again later.
3.6 Animal parts/carcasses: NEW Summer 2009
should not be disposed of in regular garbage even if autoclaved or stored in preservative. The incinerator in the Biological Sciences Building is no longer being operated so we ship all animal carcasses out though the Office of Environmental Health and Safety for incineration. Separate the animal tissue from the preservative liquid and pack the animals in 5 gallon yellow Biohazard pails (sold at the Biostores). The preservative liquid should be placed in another container with a suitable seal to prevent leakage. The animal parts should be stored in a cooler (for a few days) or frozen if they will not be picked up until later. Both containers should be labeled as to contents and then contact EH&S for pickup (see section 6) direct from your lab/freezer.
Some animal tissues may need to be flagged for special handling (see 4.5 below).
4. Waste sent for disposal via the Office of Environmental Health and Safety or UofA-Dispatch trucks: back to top
4.1 Compressed gas cylinders:
users are now required to make arrangements for direct delivery of fresh cylinders and pickup of empty cylinders from their specific work area. All cylinders (full or not) must be secured from tipping at all times by securing to a bench with the appropriate clamp or chained to a wall. They should only be moved with the metal safety cap screwed on top.
Spray cans containing propellant should not be disposed of in the garbage; send to EH&S.
Special note for bear spray
: ensure trigger locks are in place, secure with some tape and put all cans (full or partial) into a clear plastic bag and seal the top. Dispose of via EHS.
includes flammables, corrosives (acids/bases), oxidizers (nitrates, perchlorates, etc.) and poisonous material (many chemicals). Sort into the major classes as described for Chemical Segregation
information on the departmental web pages. These are the same groupings that lab chemicals are supposed to be sorted into to avoid a violent reaction if an accident occurs. Separate solids from liquids and pack grouped items into boxes. Attach the appropriate waste card to the outside of each container (include lab number and supervisor's name on the box). If you wish to have large plastic containers like the red fire safety cans returned when empty, make sure this is indicated on the container along with your building and room number.
N.B. all chemical containers should have snugly secured screw caps: NO
Parafilm, tape, aluminum foil, corks or stoppers as closures
4.3 Chemicals-special hazard:
anything that would require special care and equipment if one had to clean up a spill. Each bottle should be placed in a clear plastic bag that is sealed before packaging in a box. Chemicals with special hazards might include things like:
- carcinogens / mutagens / teratogens procedure for Ethidium Bromide
- bear spray
- perchloric acid
- mercury (metal)
4.4 Sharps: back to top
(includes needle + syringe barrel, scalpels, razor blades and broken glass)
Sharps are considered biohazards because in a clinical setting, they include things that might be contaminated with animal/human blood (which might carry infectious agents). Our sharps are destroyed through the U of A Hospital so they must be packaged to comply with their standards.
need to be contained in a leak-proof and puncture-proof container. These specific containers can be purchased from the Store room. Do not overfill (full line indicated on container). To avoid sticking yourself or spreading contaminated liquid, do not try to recap the needle or to remove the needle from the syringe barrel. Do not try to clip off or deform the needle. Dispose of sharps through Chematix.
4.5 Brain tissue:
will be exported from the department for incineration with other animal tissue, but if there is any possibility that it might contain an infectious prion (scrapies in sheep, mad cow disease, Creutzfeld-Jacob disease in humans), then the office of EH&Safety should be advised of this prior to pickup. The material is to be packaged and labelled as a biohazardous waste but kept separate from general animal tissues. Check with the Office of Environmental Health and Safety for further information.
4.6 Radioactive material: back to top
(contact at 2-5655 if you have any questions)
Unused stocks and contaminated waste which may include: plant or animal tissue, electrophoresis gels, samples mixed with liquid scintillation counting solution and gloves contaminated during the handling of radioisotopes. Short-lived isotopes (like 32P, t½ =15 days) may be held in the lab until they decay to a negligible level (>10 half lives). Longer-lived radioisotopes (t½ > 30 days) should be sent to EH&S for disposal.
4.6A Radioactive Solid waste:
4.6B Radioactive Liquid Waste:
- plant/animal waste: double bag in heavy clear plastic bags, seal opening, make sure outer surface is clear of contamination. Label contents and activity.
- gloves, paper towels, Bench Kote™: if they only contain trace amounts of radioactivity, dispose of in regular garbage. However, it they contain substantial radioactivity (e.g. after cleaning up a spill or if used to handle concentrated stock solutions), collect in a clear plastic bag (double bag), seal, label and send to EH&S
- stock solutions: (concentrated solutions, highly radioactive) should seal bottle in a clear plastic bag before packaging.
- non-flammable: place in glass bottles (maximum 4L each) with a screw cap lid. Don't fill more than 90% of bottle capacity. Label bottle with isotope and activity.
- flammable: (e.g. scintillation cocktail solution):
i) in plastic counting vials(<20 mL each ): can package in original boxes and send for disposal. Can also bag in clear heavy plastic bags (double bag).
Note: organic solvents may permeate through the plastic so don't store these for extended times (weeks) before sending for disposal.
ii) in glass vials: you must transfer solution into a glass jug (maximum 4L) with a screw cap. Don't overfill the bottle, leave some air space. Label bottle with isotope and activity.
The outer surface of all bags and bottles should be clean and free of contamination and the contents labeled on the bag/bottle. Items should be packaged securely in a cardboard box. Attach a list of the contents to the outside of the box and include the name of radiation permit holder and room number. Create a Waste Card using the Chematix system to dispose of this material.
Although alkaline batteries are not considered hazardous they should be disposed in the same manner as rechargeables. Rechargeable batteries like Ni-cad (nickel cadmium), lead gel or lead-acid batteries do contain hazardous materials and should be disposed of by EH&S. Also, the small button batteries used in watches, calculators and cameras may contain mercury, silver or lithium and should also be disposed of as hazardous waste.
NOTE: the terminals of all batteries over 2 volts should be covered with electrical tape to prevent a short circuit from occurring if the batteries are packaged loose in bag or box. A number of fires have started from batteries shorting out on a piece of metal and overheating. More information on batteries and fires is here.
5. Packaging for Transport and Disposal by Environmental Health and Safety:back to top
All waste must be properly identified, labeled and packaged so it does not spill or leak during transport. Hazardous waste must be picked up directly from your lab or. All radioactive materials must be picked up from a lab that is registered to hold radioactive substances.
1. all items must be clearly identified: unknowns are not accepted for pickup. (you must have "unknowns" identified at your own expense).
"Organic Waste" is not an adequate label. List all the contents like: formalin (~5%) + acetic acid (~3%) + methanol (~10%). A label like "D76 solution" is also unclear; add the text "waste photographic developer".
2. If you are putting the material into a previously used can or bottle, you must remove or deface the original label.
3. items should be contained in glass or plastic bottles (or bags for solids only) with screw caps (not stoppers or Parafilm™) and with the contents clearly identified on the outside:
- chemical name (text; not an abbreviation, not a formula)
- approximate amount (mass, volume, concentration)
- if radioactive, amount of radioactivity and the radiation level at the surface of the package (counts per minute)
4. for packaging, separate different compounds into groups according to their state and chemical properties. These are the same groupings that lab chemicals are supposed to be sorted into to avoid a violent reaction if an accident occurs (see Chemical Segregation page
Basically you want to:
- put all liquids in a leakproof, hard-walled container - not in a plastic bag that can be easily punctured
- ensure the tops of vessels are well sealed with screw caps that fit
- separate boxes for: acids, bases, oxidizers, flammable liquids, aqueous solutions and solid chemicals
Pack grouped items in boxes and ensure that each container has an attached waste card (include lab number and supervisor's name on the list). For large plastic liquid containers like the red fire safety cans, if you wish to have it returned when empty, make sure this is indicated on the container along with your building and room number.
5. At the U of A, it is not necessary to segregate chlorinated solvents (chloroform, methylene chloride, carbon tetrachloride) from non-chlorinated (xylene, acetone, pentane, methanol). However, if you are at other institutions, this may be required as the disposal system may differ.
6. certain items are not eligible for pickup by OH&Safety (e.g. propane tanks, explosives, unknowns, etc.). Contact the Office of EHSafety (Tony Selinger 492-0144) if you have any questions.
Please have some consideration for the people who will have to handle this material after you:
6. Requesting Waste Pickup: back to top
6.1 Pickup items directly from your lab:
- if you have several small bottles, box them up. Use one box for each group of similar chemicals.
- make sure the outside of the containers are clean, not contaminated with anything.
- Make sure the material is fully identified so that the proper disposal method can be made.
- don't overfill liquid containers, fill to a maximum of 90% capacity to leave room for expansion.
- Make sure boxes are not too heavy. Several smaller boxes are better than a single 30kg package.
- for particularly hazardous items, place each in a clear plastic bag and seal the bag. This could include things like: oxidizers, bear spray, neurotoxins, carcinogens, etc.). If the contents cannot be readily identified within the bag, then apply a label to the outside of the bag.
(will include chemical, sharps, biohazards and radioisotopes)
Currently the Chematix system is the approved way to request EHS to do a pickup from your lab.The waste will be picked up from your lab, usually within a week depending on the workload and the original request form will be left for your records (especially important for radioactive waste).
6. Contacts for further information: back to top
Tom Hantos; Biological Sciences Safety officer x2-2399
Donata Chaulk; Radiation Protection officer x2-5655
Tony Selinger; Hazardous Waste Management x2-0144
Dan Dragon; Biosafety officer x2-3713