Solvent Disposal: What Are Your Options?

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Written By Berry Mathew

Solvents are used for all types of household and industrial purposes. They’re highly effective in cleaning, isolating, distilling, and combining components, and modifying the consistency of liquids like paint, resin, or glue. But once solvents have been used, they must be properly contained and disposed of.

There are a number of options for dealing with solvents once they’ve been used and contaminated. For example, solvent recycling recovers useable solvent by separating contaminants, while solvent disposal will safely keep hazardous waste out of the environment.

The best way to dispose of used solvent depends on a few factors, including the type of solvent, the quantity, and contaminants. The following information will help in identifying the best approach to getting rid of a solvent that’s no longer useable.

Can Solvent Be Poured Down The Drain?

The vast majority of solvents used for household and professional purposes, such as acetone, turpentine, and alcohol, should not be poured down the drain in even moderate amounts. They should also never be discarded directly into soli, drainage areas, landfills, etc. These chemicals can damage septic and sewage systems. They can also interfere with water treatment processes and ultimately end up contaminating the environment.

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How Should Used Solvent Be Collected?

Used solvent should be collected in an air-tight, easily sealable container that’s designed to be used with chemicals. These containers are usually made from chemically resistant thermal plastics, such as high-density polyethylene (HSPE), Polypropylene (PP), and Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), or metals like tinplate steel and aluminum. Highly flammable or combustible solvents may need to be collected in a dedicated flame-proof container. Local municipalities and collection facilities will typically provide specific guidance on how the solvent should be contained, which may vary based on the specific type of chemical.    

Can Solvent Be Reused?

A solvent can be reused if it is cleaned and the suspended contaminants are thoroughly removed. Special equipment is required to do this. These units are mainly used in industrial facilities where large quantities of solvent are used on a regular basis. Manufacturers that use parts washers to automatically clean tools with solvent, for instance, will often incorporate solvent recyclers or solvent reclaiming equipment to remove suspended particles. This makes it possible to restore solvent that can be used like out-of-the-bottle virgin solvent.

While recovering solvent for reuse greatly reduces the amount of waste that needs special disposal, the separated contaminants will still need to be specially handled and treated as hazardous waste.

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What Are Safe Solvent Disposal Options?

Safe disposal can be completed by taking the contaminated solvent or separated waste particles to a hazardous materials collection site. Some areas may also offer to pick up as well as handling services, especially when larger quantities need to be collected or specially handled.

Third-party recycling services are also an option. These companies maintain solvent recycling capabilities that are usually catered to companies that need solvent collecting and recycling services but they do not wish to maintain their own dedicated equipment in-house. Some of these providers may offer services to individuals or they may restrict their services to industrial clients.

How Does Solvent Recycling Work?

The process of separating particle contaminates from solvent works through distillation. With solvent distillation, the dirty solvent enters the recycler in a special chamber where it will be heated until it evaporates. The vapor moves up and is collected into a condenser. The reduced temperature in this portion of the machinery will then cause the vapor to condense back into liquid. The liquid can then be collected and stored to be used just like virgin solvent. The previously suspended particles are left behind to be collected for hazardous waste disposal.