Hazardous Waste Minimization

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) establishes a cradle-to-grave regulatory system for solid waste and emphasizes control of waste after generation. The 1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to RCRA recognize the need to increase waste minimization efforts and to restrict land disposal. It establishes a national policy toward minimizing waste generation; requires the certification of efforts that are undertaken to reduce volume and toxicity of waste; requires the certification of waste minimization programs on manifests; and requires the certification of minimization by a treatment facility, a storage facility, or a disposal facility. (https://www.epa.gov/rcra)

MIT’s Hazardous Waste Minimization Team works closely with the hazardous waste vendor and campus researchers to identify waste minimization and pollution prevention efforts for the Institute. The Waste Minimization Program’s current initiatives include:

  • Chemical Inventory System
  • Consolidation of Hazardous Waste
  • Cylinder Disposal
  • Ethidium Bromide Substitution
  • Glass Recycling
  • Improved Waste Stream Determination (includes Chemical Sharps & Unknowns)
  • Mercury Free Bubblers
  • Mercury Thermometer Exchange Program
  • Silver Recovery
  • Solvent Recycling
  • Virgin Chemical Redistribution

These initiatives allow the Hazardous Waste Team to divert materials for recycling, recovery or reuse. By packaging materials more efficiently; i.e. bulking into larger containers, the process uses less packaging materials and reduces the amount of shipments from campus, which aids in our goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by the Institute. We encourage researchers to work with the Hazardous Waste Team and EHS Office to identify additional efforts to reduce our waste and improve our environmental stewardship goals. A summary of each initiative is below as well as listed in the MIT Hazardous Waste Minimization Plan.


Chemical Inventory

  • Keeping an updated inventory of the chemicals in your lab helps to reduce cost, unnecessary chemical deliveries and the need to dispose of virgin product in the event of a lab move, inspection, or emergency response incident. For information on chemical inventory tools check out the Chemical Inventory page.

Consolidation of Hazardous Waste

  • Consolidating your waste into larger containers when possible (HPLC units, solvent collection, corrosive collection, etc) reduces the amount of packaging materials otherwise needed to safely transport smaller laboratory containers. It’s helpful to know what the chemical makeup of the waste stream is for this process, so we ask for representative ranges when labeling the container.

Cylinder Disposal

  • Cylinders that cannot be returned to the manufacturer for reuse must be handled through the Hazardous Waste Management Program. Certain types of cylinders can be safely de-valved and sent for scrap metal recycling, while others will be sent to an approved disposal facility for processing. Contact environment@mit.edu for more information or if you have a cylinder ready for disposal.
  • Check out the Compressed Gas Cylinder page for altneratives and guidelines for safe handling.

Ethidium Bromide Substitution

  • There are several substitutions for using Ethidium Bromide gels which are less harmful. In addition to these substitutions there are “tea bags” that can be used to reduce the amount of waste generated.
  • Check out the EHS guideline for gel disposal on campus and how best to minimize your impact on the environment.  

Glass Recycling

  • Recycling chemical bottles after the material has been consolidated, whether that’s in the lab or at a central location, reduces the overall packaging materials that end up in an incinerator as well as reduces the amount of natural resources needed to create more glass.

Improved Waste Stream Determination (includes Chemical Sharps & Unknowns)

  • Correct determination of hazardous waste streams allows for safe waste consolidation with other compatible materials; improves the potential to use recycling options rather than treatment or incineration; and prevents non-hazardous items from being misrepresented.

Mercury Free Oil Bubblers

  • Mercury, as stated below, is highly toxic and is a target item for the MIT EHS Office to remove, when possible, from the research lab. Oil Bubblers are one example of mercury free devices that are proven effective in research and safer for the environment.

Mercury Thermometer Exchange Program

  • Mercury, a highly toxic carcinogenic material, is the main component of a mercury thermometer. Due to its hazardous nature the MIT EHS Office is working with VWR to swap out mercury thermometers for more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Silver Recovery

  • Silver is removed from photo fixer waste by a recycling process on campus. As researchers move towards color developing silver recovery needs will ultimately be eliminated but in the meantime it’s best to capture and reuse the silver rather than harvesting new silver or encapsulating it as a hazardous waste.

Solvent Recycling

  • It’s no surprise that research requires chemicals and generates waste, both of which cost money and increase our carbon footprint. The EHS Office has been working with CBG Biotech Recyclers to promote the practice of solvent recycling in campus labs for several streams, including acetonitrile, acetone and hexane. As interest grows to participate in this initiative we are able to identify additional chemicals to potentially recycle. Here are some questions you should ask yourself or your fellow lab mates & PI(s) if you’re interested in testing out one of these units.
    a) Do you produce acetone waste from glassware washing?
    b) Are you concerned with the high costs of chemicals?
    c) Can I recycle mixed solvent waste?
    (Note: If the boiling points of the constituents are the same or close together it becomes more difficult to separate the chemicals out as they are considered to be an azeotropic solution. These recycling systems tend to work best with mixed solvent streams with boiling points farther apart.)

Virgin Chemical Redistribution

  • Virgin chemicals that are no longer needed in one lab may be used by another lab on campus. This program allows for the re-direction of the chemicals for use in a process rather than sent directly to waste management.