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Empty Containers

JUNE 2017


Definition of an Empty Container:
Under the hazardous waste regulations, a container is generally considered empty if its contents have been removed by commonly employed practices such as pouring, pumping, or aspirating, and no more than one inch or one percent of residue remains on the bottom of the container (whichever is the lesser amount). If the container is greater than or equal to 110 gallons, no more than 0.3 percent by weight of the total container capacity can remain. Although these regulations allow for some residuals for certain materials, Northeastern University personnel will endeavor to remove as much residuals as possible and go beyond these requirements. This includes airing out empty solvent containers in chemical fume hoods and scraping the bottom of bottles containing solids.

Empty chemical containers make excellent hazardous waste containers and laboratory personnel should make efforts to recycle them whenever possible. If you do recycle them, it is important that you insure that the chemicals or hazardous waste collected in them are compatible with the container or any residuals that may remain. If you do not have a use for them there may be another laboratory or department that does. The Office of Environmental Health and Safety (x2769) will take empty 4 liter containers for recycling in other laboratories.

Containers Containing Acutely Hazardous Chemicals:
Containers that held acutely hazardous chemicals must be Triple Rinsed to be considered empty. Containers that are triple rinsed must have the rinse material collected and disposed of as hazardous waste. Please consult the Northeastern University Procedure for Disposal of Hazardous Waste fact sheet for the proper procedures to dispose of hazardous waste. To determine whether waste is hazardous or acutely hazardous please go to Hazardous Waste Determination page. If rinse material is anticipated to be excessive you may wish to consider disposing of the chemical container containing acutely hazardous chemical as a hazardous waste.

Compressed Gas Cylinders:
Containers which held compressed gas are empty when the pressure in the container reaches atmospheric pressure (i.e. the cylinder is completely depressurized). Although the cylinder is considered empty, the valve must be removed in order for the solid waste disposal facilities contracted by Northeastern University to accept it for regular trash. Please refer to the Northeastern University Procedure for Management of Unwanted Compressed Gas Cylinders fact sheet for additional information.

Aerosol Cans:
Aerosol container must be completely empty of product and propellant to be considered completely empty. The spray mechanism or nozzles must be in place and functional. Aerosol cans formerly containing pesticides, flammable propellants or acutely hazardous chemicals, although considered empty, will need to be managed as a hazardous waste.

Container Size:
Containers Larger than 5 gallons cannot be disposed of as regular trash. They are required to either be reused on site or you may call the Office of Environmental Health & Safety (x2769) to have them picked up for recycling or proper disposal. Containers of 5 gallons or less can be disposed of in the common trash if they meet the other requirements in this fact sheet.

Defacing Labels:
Once the container has been emptied, before it can be put into the regular trash, the original label must be covered over or defaced. The Office of Environmental Health and Safety has labels you can use to cover over these original labels and this is the preferred method to manage empty containers.

Empty Container Label – 5 Gallon Pails

Empty Container Labels – Bottles and Small Cans

Covering or defacing labels will help the Building Services department and other personnel know the container is empty and has been properly managed in your laboratory. If you deface a label, use a good marker and insure all hazard-warning information is not visible and “EMPTY” is clearly written on the container.

Prior to disposal the cap or bung on the container must be removed. Once a container meets all the applicable requirements above, it may be placed in the regular trash for Building Services to pick up. If the container is made of glass and it is broken, it must be placed in a “Broken Glass” box. If you do not have one of these available, then you can use any box, as long as the words “Caution – Broken Glass” are placed prominently on it. If your empty containers are not picked up in the trash or hallway within a day or two, please contact Building Services at x2757 to advise them of this.

If you have questions or require additional information, please contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety. The link to this Flow Chart should also be helpful to you in making decisions on how to manage empty containers.


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