Toxic and other recyclable Waste

(Hazardous waste processing plant EBSimmering, Austria)

Flashback: During recent decades, the disposal of waste products resulting from human activity has become a pressing problem. Due to population, technical and industrial growth, the toxicity and kinds of industrial by-products has increased exorbitantly. Toxic wastes include radioactive, bio-hazardous, and most chemicals, with some being produced in substantial quantities; e.g., heavy metals (notably mercury, lead, and cadmium in batteries), certain hydrocarbons, and some poisonous organic solvents. Although detoxification using bacteria, irradiation, and chemical systems are now being performed more often, such substances have traditionally been sealed in metal drums and deposited underground. Previously these barrels have also been dumped into the oceans - fortunately this practise is no longer legal. Such storage containers often corrode and leak their contents, polluting the land and the water supply, prompting authorities to pass protective acts, which assigned broad financial responsibility for toxic waste cleanups. One of the greatest modern hazards is radioactive waste produced in increasing amounts as by-products of research, nuclear weaponry, and nuclear-power generation facilities. Because this material remains lethal for thousands of years, it is of special concern. Countries operating nuclear power plants, currently store these materials in temporary sites. So far permanent storage solutions have encountered many technical difficulties and public objections. Solidifying nuclear waste to reduce its potential danger is currently considered as one option. Some European countries like France attempts a "recycling" approach which aims at incorporating weakly radioactive waste into many substances ranging from household appliances to building materials1. As radioactive waste still awaits adequate treatment and because Austria produces almost nothing of this sort of waste, this page will not further consider it.
Many other (not quite as) toxic substances can be dealt with in a less controversial manner. One of such items is the classical mercury fever thermometer; although substituted with electronic meters, these are still used in many households. For the average consumer it's worthwhile to know that many harmful substances are incorporated in items of day-to-day use, items that people take for granted. These are found in mercury batteries that power wristwatches and electronic greeting cards, palm books and other widely distributed gadgets. Other modern day tools include mobile computing devices, mobile phones and recording gadgets that are usually equipped with rechargeable NiCd-batteries. In fact it is these battery powered toys that are of concern as they contain a wide selection of toxic substances.
Neon-light bulbs, the kitchen's refrigerators, the common TV set (using a CRT), and office equipment like fax-machines, printers, computers, etc. contain likewise harmful substances.
Although simple vinegar would do the same job (besides being a harmless substitute), modern household cleansing agents use very aggressive and corrosive chemicals; these range from ammonia solutions, to pure alcoholic disinfectants.
Toxic ingredients are still added in the paint industry; any self-wo/man is very familiar with the volatile substances contained in varnish and paintings, but seem to neglect its toxic potentials. Even, old cooking oils, synthetic engine oils should be included here as well.
Bio-hazardous waste - from local hospitals and ambulatories, from the practitioner around the corner, expired medications from one's own first aid kit back at home contain a wide range of questionable compounds that should be collected and disposed off properly; i.e. delivering these substances to appropriate sites capable of dealing with these substances.
If discharged or dumped improperly into our environment, these substances ultimately will have an adverse effect on all of us. Therefore, every member of our modern society should keep in mind that almost any of these agents share the same potential risk.

Toxic waste recycling station

Batteries: Not a single battery should be dumped into the common household rubbish can. As they contain a mixture of heavy metals, they are best returned either to the dealer or to the recycling stations located in any major city (in Vienna - AUT, the EBS in Simmering is in charge of that). Even the most common dry cell contains heavy metals in the form of zinc-chloride and manganese oxide.
Tiny mercury, Lithium-Ion, or Zinc-air batteries are extensively used in medicine (hearing aids and pace makers) and in electronic appliances (electric watches, pocket calculators, electronic greeting cards, toys, etc.). Lead batteries, commonly used in the automotive industry are not only toxic in regards to their heavy metal load but also do contain a highly corrosive sulfuric acid electrolyte. Fortunately, NiCd batteries, become increasingly substituted by the less toxic Li-Ion batteries to power cell phones, cameras, video equipment as well as lap- and palmtops; nonetheless, these new generation of batteries should also end up in the recycling bin.

Exhausted batteries

Refrigerators: Unfortunately, CFC-technology is still used in many industrial processes in several countries across the globe. Countries like China still have not yet signed the Montreal protocol for the protection of the stratospheric ozone layer. Even in some Austrian households one can find older appliances that operate by chloro-fluoro-carbons (CFC)-derivatives as cooling agents in fridges and air-conditioners. Since the mid 1970's scientists have been concerned about the harmful effects of certain CFCs on the ozone layer. Large quantities of CFCs are also used in the manufacture of disposable foam products such as mono-usable cups and plates; although banned, aerosol propellants in spray cans, and cleaning-solvents in the manufacture of electronic circuit boards are still relying on this product group.

Devices that do contain CFCs have to be disposed off in a way that these gases do not escape into the environment which it is worsening the already tight ozone balance of the upper stratosphere. At the EBS waste management centre in Simmering / Vienna, the CFC's contained in old refrigerators are sucked out of the compressor compartment into specially sealed tanks where they will be neutralized later on.
As proofed by Greenpeace's alternative refrigerating technology, there are substitutes such as greenfreeze - a mixture of propane (R290) and isobutane (R600a). Another substitute is the ether methoxy-methane; it is a gas with a boiling point of -23°C that is isomeric to ethane (C2H6O; but unlike the OH-group inethene, the O-atom is placed in-between the 2 C-atoms).

CFC extraction from old refrigerators

TV-Sets and Computer monitors: Currently, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) are still used as the main active display screens. CRTs not only house a substantial amount of copper wiring, but also contain a moderate but lucrative quantity of elemental phosphorous. Current elimination procedures include the disassembly of any television or computer monitors. The electronic and metal components are collected and processed separately, while the case, usually made of plastics is fed into the thermal fraction (incinerated). The CRTs are further processed by cutting open the glass body to remove the phosphorous and aluminium components encapsulated within.
Similarly, neon light bulbs are processed in a protected and sealed chamber where the enclosed mercury gas and droplets are sucked out of the bulb.


Treated Wood: Biogenic substances like wood or cardboards that have been treaded with special water repelling and anti-corrosive products are usually recycled and used for the paper industry, nor for composting and the humus production. Because of the xenobiotic chemical agents therein and to avoid that these substance group enters the foodweb, they are usually incinerated to avoid complications with mobilization and contamination that could otherwise harm the environment.

Treated wood

Cooking and Engine Oil: Pouring cooking oils, butter sauces, fat of stocks, etc. down the drain or the toilet is not only problematic for the waste water treatment plant, but it also causes deposits in sewage pipes or even clogging them. Instead, these rich sources rich in hydrocarbons can be processed and refined to fuel the truck fleet of the city council or to heat the local hospital. This alternative not only reduces collection fees operation costs and maintenance of the sewage pipe infrastructure, but also eases the heavy burden imposed by fossil fuels. On a larger scale, and enriched with oils from large scale farming (e.g. rape seeds), it can be considered as an alternative to diesel fuel. Being emission neutral, this concept can slow down the ever increasing emissions of green-house gases:
1) collection of the used oils in individual households;
2) stocking of the filled oil containers;
3 & 4) processing and purification of the oils;
5) distribution of the refined fuel;

Oil recycling to fuel trucks of the city council

Chemicals: Even though more and more users chose biodegradable agents over conventional ones, many applications still require the use of traditional, poorly degradable types of products. Within the recycling station's own laboratories, acidic and basic chemicals, volatile substances, as well as larger amounts of household detergents undergo a standardized screening procedure before being grouped according to their chemical and toxic properties. Certain substances can be incorporated into existing recycling loops, while others have to be destroyed at special toxic waste incinerators.

Toxic waste screening

Medical items: Medicines that have expired according to their imprinted shelf-life date should be handled as bio-hazardous waste and flushed down the toilet or dumped into rubbish bin. In most cases the local pharmacy will gratefully take them back, but where this is not possible, it should be handed over to the local recycling station, where it will be forwarded to the appropriate processing site or incinerator.

Expired and no longer used medicines

Toxic as well as bio-hazardous waste that cannot be recycled or treated any further require incineration. Less toxic substances can be directly fed into a rotary kiln while bio-hazardous material such as contagious hospital waste, etc., is filled and sealed in PU-barrels before being incinerated at high temperature. The combustion process is initiated with natural gas; once the incinerated material looses its water content, the material itself contributes to the further boost the reaction temperature. A process also facilitated by the insulating properties of the kiln itself. The high-temperature oven itself is kept at a minimal threshold level of 1200°C. Being slightly inclined, the lower end of the rotary kiln discharges the inorganic fraction (metals, ceramics, etc) into a slag and ash container. Metallic constituents are extracted and collected and sent to the closest metal smelter for further processing. Combustion and reaction gases are collected separately and passed through several stages of electro-mechanical filters to eliminate and hinder any re-formation of toxic gasses like dioxins, furans, HCl, SO2, etc. In ideal cases (as with the EBS), the generated heat is further used to power gas turbines which cover the electrical requirements of the plant, while the remaining heat is fed into the district heating network of the city of Vienna.
Þ For district heating, see also the residual waste incinerator section.

Toxic waste incineration (left and center) and slag from incinerator (right)

References: Hauptkläranlage Wien, Entsorgungsbetriebe Simmering (1999); Haidequerstr. 6; A-1110 Wien - AUT
For additional information visit the follwing web sites
http:// -
Basel Convention -
Basel Network Action -
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition -
(1)http://, 4thof May 2000 - Einkauf mit dem Geigerzähler

Intro / Paper / Glass / Plastic / Metal / Compost / Toxic / Residual / Sewage / Landfill