Decontaminating Empty Containers

Empty containers must be decontaminated before recycling or disposal. All containers should be emptied as much as possible prior to decontamination. The following guidelines assume that only trace residues remain on the inside of the containers.

Containers Smaller than Seven Gallons

NOTE: If the material that was in the container is listed on the Acute Discarded Waste List, the wash/rinse MUST be saved and disposed of through the Division of Research Safety (DRS) chemical waste disposal program. If your material does not fit into one of the five following classifications call 217-333-2755 or email cws@illinois.edu and ask for additional assistance from the DRS staff.

Solvents

Water soluble solvents: Rinse twice with water, then completely fill the container with water and empty it to displace vapors. Allow to drain. Before disposing of the container, remove the lid and write "EMPTY" or "MT" on the label. Dispose of empty containers as regular trash.

Solvents not soluble in water: Wash with a detergent or rinse twice with a water-soluble solvent such as acetone, then fill the container with water and empty it to displace vapors. Allow it to drain. Solvents (other than water) used for cleaning must be collected and disposed as chemical waste; they cannot go down the drain. Before disposing of the container, remove the lid and write "EMPTY" or "MT" on the label. Dispose of empty containers as regular trash.

Acids

Neutralize the liquid residues using sodium or potassium carbonate or bicarbonate. Rinse several times with water. The rinse water may be disposed of down the drain. Before disposing of the container, remove the lid and write "EMPTY" or "MT" on the label. Dispose of empty containers as regular trash.

Bases

Neutralize the liquid residues using citric acid. Rinse several times with water. The rinse water may be poured down the drain. Before disposing of the container, remove the lid and write "EMPTY" or "MT" on the label. Dispose of empty containers as regular trash.

Other Liquids

Rinse the container twice with water, then fill the container with water and empty it to displace vapors. Allow the container to drain. Rinse water may be poured down the drain. Before disposing of the container, remove the lid and write "EMPTY" or "MT" on the label. Dispose of empty containers as regular trash.

Solids

Water soluble chemicals: Rinse twice with water, then completely fill the container with water and empty it. Allow the container to drain. Before disposing of the container, remove the lid and write "EMPTY" or "MT" on the label. Dispose of empty containers as regular trash.

Organic material not soluble in water: Wash with a detergent or rinse twice with a water-soluble solvent such as acetone, then completely fill the container with water and empty it. Allow it to drain. Solvents (other than water) used for cleaning must be collected and disposed as chemical waste; they cannot go down the drain. Before disposing of the container, remove the lid and write "EMPTY" or "MT" on the label. Dispose of empty containers as regular trash.

Containers with a Capacity of Seven Gallons or More (Drums)

NOTE: If the drum contained a material listed on the Acute Discarded Waste List, the wash/rinse MUST be saved and disposed of through the DRS chemical waste disposal program.

Drums that have contained hazardous materials (flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic) may not be disposed of in regular trash or recycled unless they have been decontaminated to meet the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Illinois EPA (IEPA), and the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements for empty drums. Refer to the following instructions to decontaminate drums for disposal or recycling.

Drums That Contained Oil Only (no PCBs or solvents)

  1. Empty as much material out of the drum as possible.
  2. Add absorbents or adsorbents (bentonite, kitty litter) to take up any free oil left in the drum.
  3. Dispose of absorbents and/or adsorbents in the trash (make sure there is no free-flowing oil).
  4. The drum can then be discarded or recycled through the University of Illinois  recycler (send a message to cws@illinois.edu for the contact information).

Drums that Contained Hazardous Materials Other Than Oil

  1. Empty as much material out of the drum as possible, including easily removable residues.
  2. Wash/rinse the drum three times with a suitable solvent. If the material is soluble in water, use water to wash/rinse. If the material is not soluble in water, use a suitable organic solvent such as acetone for the first two washes and water for the final rinse.
  3. Remove the top of the drum, using a drum de-header if necessary. The DRS can assist. NOTE: If the drum contained a flammable material, it should be evaluated for potential explosive hazards. Contact the DRS (cws@illinois.edu or 217-333-2755) for assistance.
  4. Wear safety goggles during the washing/rinsing process. Wear heavy gloves to prevent crushed fingers and protect against sharp edges. When washing the drum, wear gloves that are impervious to the solvent.
  5. For a 55-gallon drum, each wash/rinse cycle will typically require one to five gallons of the solvent. Smaller drums will require less solvent. Spray the solvent around the side of the drum to dissolve residues. Once in the drum, swirl the solvent to dissolve the residues. Use a brush or other mechanical aid to facilitate the cleaning.
    NOTE: Additional wash cycles may be used if the drum does not appear to be clean after three cycles.
  6. Pour the wash/rinse material into the sink drain if all of the following conditions are met:
    • The original contents of the drum did not contain a material listed on the Acute Discarded Waste List.
    • Water was used as the cleaning solvent.
    • The resulting waste has a pH between six and ten.
    • Concentrations of heavy metals are within the limits set by the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District (UCSD)
    • The final wash solution is not flammable.

      NOTE: Contact the DRS (cws@illinois.edu or 217-333-2755) with questions about whether the material can be poured down the sanitary sewer. Absolutely no materials should be disposed via the storm sewer.

  7. Label the drum(s): "This drum has been triple washed/ rinsed." Paint over or cross through any other markings on the drum.
  8. Empty metal drums can be recycled through the U of I’s recycler (send a message to cws@illinois.edu for the contact information). Contact DRS to have the empty poly(plastic) drums removed.

 

Last Update: 9/1/2016