What Industries Produce the Most Hazardous Waste?

What Industries Produce the Most Hazardous Waste?

Many industrial processes produce toxic or hazardous waste, but some of the biggest industry culprits aren’t always the most obvious. Read on to learn more about which industries typically rank high on the list of hazardous waste producers, and what some industries are doing to mitigate their hazardous waste production.

Furniture Manufacturing and Refinishing

furnitureBelieve it or not, your beautiful oak dining table isn’t exactly 100 percent natural wood. In order to ensure the long-term durability, preservation, and water-repelling ability of wood used for furniture, manufacturers treat it with a wide variety of chemicals.

These chemicals include solvents, petroleum distillates, and volatile organic compounds – the leftovers of which end up as toxic waste. Increasingly, however, furniture manufacturers are experimenting with alternative products and methods to help reduce the amount of hazardous waste they generate.

Some of these tactics include replacing chemical solvents with organic equivalents, using water-borne coatings or waxes instead of chemical stain to finish furniture, and setting up onsite distillation units to capture and reclaim solvents for reuse.

Paper Manufacturing

Another industry that is all about treating wood with chemicals is the paper manufacturing business. Byproducts from making paper include ammonia, benzene, nitrates, and mercury. All of these are extremely hazardous to human health as well as the environment.

To address this, using post-consumer, recycled paper – rather than virgin fiber – to produce new paper products has become much more commonplace in recent years. This is because it takes fewer chemicals to treat recycled pulp than it does to treat virgin pulp.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that making recycled paper as opposed to virgin paper results in 35 percent less water pollution and 74 percent less air pollution.

Auto Repair

auto repairYour local automotive repair shop might seem like a small business, but it’s a big producer of toxic waste. The engine oil, lubricants, paint, and other chemicals that auto shops remove from cars adds up over time.

The majority of auto repair businesses are careful to follow proper disposal methods for toxic waste. However, some shops, particularly smaller or more remote establishments, don’t always obey disposal guidelines as closely as they should.


Getting things clean is often a dirty business. Cleaning companies in various industries are some of the largest producers of hazardous waste around, thanks to the chemicals they use to remove stains, grime, and dirt.

Dry cleaning companies in particular are notorious toxic waste producers. Petroleum solvents and harsh chemicals like tetrachloroethylene are in widespread use in the industry.

More and more, however, environmentally-minded consumers are turning to “green” dry cleaners for their cleaning needs. These businesses rely on a variety of less- or non-toxic alternatives, including silicon-based solvents or steam washing technologies, to avoid the use of harmful chemicals.


newspaperThe inks used by printing companies are generally highly toxic, requiring careful handling and special disposal methods. Often, the cleaning products used on printing equipment are just as toxic. Potential environmental or health problems can be caused by contaminated rags, cloths, or other cleaning gear.

One common hazardous waste disposal method used by the printing industry is sending inks to a fuel blending service, where they are burned along with other waste in industrial boilers or kilns. Another is recycling ink mixtures to make newspaper-grade black ink.

Construction and Demolition

In addition to being a major contributor to ordinary landfill waste, the construction, demolition, and renovation industry generates significant amounts of hazardous waste. For example, wrecking and demolition can expose historic toxic debris, such as lead pipe, within older structures.

Additionally, heavy construction produces asphalt wastes, used oil, and petroleum distillates. Carpentry and floor work, like furniture manufacturing, uses hazardous chemical solvents and coatings. Finally, the preparation and use of paint produces solvents and heavy metals that are extremely dangerous to groundwater.

Leather Manufacturing

leather manufacturingThe practice of treating leather is an old one. However, contemporary methods and processes are much more hazardous than the vegetable-based tanning agents historically used by tanners.

Today, chemical agents like chromium sulfate and chemical-based dyes are used extensively to treat leather. These can have serious environmental effects if not disposed of properly.

For example, the city of Kanpur, India, is one of the world’s largest exporters of leather. The dumping of about 80 percent of the untreated wastewater from leather manufacturing operations in the area has led to severely contaminated farmland and major health problems for local residents.

Chemical Manufacturing

It’s perhaps not surprising that the manufacture of chemical products generates a significant amount of hazardous waste. The intended products of the chemical manufacturing industry include strong acids and bases, flammable agents, and combustible materials.

As a result, it makes sense that the industry’s byproducts and waste products are also toxic. However, given the hazardous nature of the industry, chemical manufacturing companies are required to follow extremely strict guidelines regulating the handling and disposal of their waste products.

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