Chemical Waste Collection and Storage

Before generating chemical waste, the researcher should determine how it will be collected and stored and obtain the necessary equipment (containers, labels) in advance. The choice of procedures depends on the type of waste and its final disposition. This section explains how to determine the final disposition of waste, select the appropriate waste container, and store waste in the lab or work area. It also suggests waste minimization strategies.

Determining How to Dispose of a Chemical Waste

The final disposition of a chemical waste is determined by the answers to a series of questions:

Step 1. Is the waste Contaminated Debris (glassware, paper towels, clean-up materials), or is it a chemical or chemical mixture?
If it is contaminated debris: Go to Step 5.
If it is a chemical or chemical mixture: Go to Step 2.

Step 2. Is the chemical a DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) controlled substance? (Refer to the DEA list controlled substances )
Yes: Refer to the
DEA Controlled Substances Guide for disposal procedures.
No: Go to Step 3. 

Step 3. Is the chemical a solid (not liquid or gas)?
Yes: Collect and store the waste as described in the waste container and storage guidelines listed below and dispose of it through the Division of Research Safety (DRS) chemical waste disposal program. See the section
Procedures for Requesting Chemical Waste Disposal for the disposal procedures. (No solid chemical waste, hazardous or non-hazardous, should be placed in the regular trash.)
No: Go to Step 4.

Step 4. Is the chemical a liquid non-hazardous waste as listed in the section Liquid Non-Hazardous Chemical Waste Disposal?
Yes: The chemical may be poured down the sanitary sewer (sink drain) with copious amounts of water.
No: Collect and store the waste as described in the waste container and storage guidelines listed below, and dispose of it through the DRS chemical waste disposal program. See the section
Procedures for Requesting Chemical Waste Disposal for the disposal procedures.

Step 5. Is the contaminated debris laboratory glassware (broken and unbroken)?
Yes: See the
Laboratory Glassware Waste Disposal section.
No: Go to Step 6. 

Step 6. Is the debris contaminated with a substance listed in the section Liquid Non-Hazardous Chemical Waste Disposal?
Yes: The contaminated debris can be disposed of in the regular trash.
No: Collect and store the contaminated debris as described in the waste container and storage guidelines listed below; dispose of it through the DRS chemical waste disposal program. See the section
Procedures for Requesting Chemical Waste Disposal for the disposal procedures.

Guidelines for Selecting a Chemical Waste Container

  • Reuse chemical containers only if they are in good condition (no cracks or major dents) and have a threaded cap that can seal tightly. DRS will not accept broken or leaking chemical waste containers.
  • Use the chemical's original container if appropriately sized.
  • Use Nalgene® jerricans or poly carboys for common solvents, photo developing solutions, and acid mixtures (not including hydrofluoric, nitric, or perchloric acids). See the section on jerricans for additional information on what wastes can be put in them.
  • All containers must be compatible with the specific chemical waste stored in them. (Example: hydrofluoric acid and solutions of sodium hydroxide must not be placed in glass bottles because they will etch through the bottle.)
  • Plastic milk jugs, juice, soda, or water bottles, or any other beverage or food container are NOT acceptable for any waste. DRS will not pick up waste collected in them.
  • Use a separate container for each waste chemical item or mixture. Refer to the section on Chemical Waste Segregation for additional details.
  • Choose a container that is large enough to hold the amount of waste generated. Avoid using containers larger than 10 liters.
  • DRS may refuse to pick up waste containers (other than drums) that are too heavy (>35lbs).
  • Leave some space at the top of the waste containers. Overfilled containers (including drums) will be refused. Jerricans are marked for the 6- or 10-liter level; do not fill past this line.

Except in high volume situations, 55-gallon drums should not be used for accumulating waste chemicals. If you need to use a drum, contact the DRS Chemical Waste Section by email at or by phone at 217-333-2755. Do NOT store more than one drum in any given area. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations require that if a site has more than 55 gallons of waste, the excess shall be removed within 72 hours. DRS can provide instructions on how to meet this regulatory requirement.

Drums for chemical collection should not be smaller than 55 gallons. If you do not generate enough waste to fill a 55 gallon drum, then use 10 liter jerricans and request frequent chemical waste pickups.

Using Jerricans

Jerricans should be used to collect liquid high-volume (at least 10 L or more a year) waste streams that are not reactive, extremely toxic, or malodorous. Solids must be filtered out before adding the waste to a jerrican. Wastes that should be collected in jerricans include:

  • Organic solvents (halogenated and non-halogenated);
  • Acids or acid mixtures (Do not collect hydrofluoric acid or oxidizing acids such as nitric acid and perchloric acid in jerricans);
  • Photographic fixing/developing solutions;
  • Formaldehyde solutions.

Other waste streams may be accepted in jerricans. Check with the DRS Chemical Waste Section ( or 217-333-2755) before using a jerrican to be sure that DRS can bulk the waste. Otherwise, DRS may be unable to return the jerrican because it will have to be directly packed for shipment to the off-site waste treatment and disposal facility where it will be destroyed.

For labs in the Chemistry Department located in Roger Adams Laboratories, solvent or oil waste collected in jerricans can be disposed through the Roger Adams Laboratories Jerrican Pickup Program


What Wastes Not to Place in a Jerrican

The chart below lists items that SHOULD NOT be placed in a jerrican because they are reactive when bulked with other chemicals, create odor problems, or are too toxic to bulk. DRS will be unable to return the jerrican if its contents react when tested or if it contains any of the chemicals listed below. Chemicals known to react with solvents or that are otherwise extremely toxic should never be added to a jerrican.

Do NOT Dispose of the Following Chemicals in Jerricans:


Hypochlorite esters

Phosphite esters

Acyl halides

Iron petnacarbonyl

Phosphite esters

Alkaline and alkaline earth hydrides and alkyls in solutions


Polymer solutions

Alkyl silyl halides


Poly-nitro compounds


Lithium aluminum hydride

Propargyl bromides

Allyl Alcohol

Mercaptans/ Thiols

Pyrocarbonate esters

Aluminum and gallium trialkyls

Mercury compounds


Amines > 5% by vol.

Metal halides and oxyhalides

Silicon and germanium hydroalkyls


Monomers (polymerizable)

Sodium or calcium hydride


Nitrate esters

Sulfate esters


Nitric acid

Sulfite esters



Sulfonate esters


Nitrite esters


Carbon disulfide

Nitro esters

Sulfonyl halides


Nitroso esters

Sulfuric acid (conc.)



Thallium ethoxide



Thio ketones or esters




Chromate esters




Perfluoroaliphatic acids

Zinc and cadmium alkyls



Ethyl Ether > 5% by vol.

Phosphate esters



Chemical Waste Segregation

The advantages of chemical waste segregation include:

  • Prevention of unwanted or potentially dangerous reactions,
  • Protection of personnel (including DRS) from potentially unsafe working environments,
  • Ease in handling and disposing of wastes,
  • Reduction of disposal costs,
  • Minimization of chemical waste.

Use the following segregation guidelines to generate manageable waste streams:

  • Collect halogenated and non-halogenated organic solvents in separate containers.
  • Separate organic wastes from metal-containing and/or inorganic wastes.
  • Do not mix solids and liquids unless the waste is a result of a process combining them. Strain all solids (e.g., towels, filters, centrifuge tubes, gloves, pipette tips) from liquids, and handle them as contaminated debris.
  • Separate mercury solutions and mercury compounds from other wastes as much as possible. Do not combine mercury wastes of different concentrations.
  • Separate vacuum pump oil and other machine oil from organic solvents and other chemicals. Used oil cannot be recycled if solvents are present; refer to the Chemicals and Products List for the correct description.
  • Labware and equipment that is obviously contaminated with acutely hazardous or toxic chemicals should be handled as contaminated debris. Such items include disposables such as gloves, bench top coverings, and aprons. See the section Decontaminating Empty Containers for decontamination procedures for unbroken glassware.
  • Separate radioactive waste from chemical waste.
  • Separate non-hazardous chemical wastes from hazardous chemical waste.
  • Keep highly toxic wastes (such as cyanides) separate from all other wastes.

Chemical Waste Storage and Labeling Requirements

  • Keep all chemical waste containers closed at all times except when waste is being actively added to the container.
  • All containers must be identified and labeled with the name of the contents and with the word "Waste." Examples: "Waste Acetone" or "Waste Hydrochloric Acid, Chromium and Lead." A generic label such as "Waste Halogenated Solvents" may be used, but a list of the contents must be kept nearby.
  • Chemical waste containers must be labeled with the complete chemical names. Abbreviations and chemical formulas are not permitted.
  • Label chemical waste containers before using them or at the time the first drop of waste is added to the container.
  • Unused or outdated chemicals in their original containers with labels identifying the contents do not need the word "Waste" written on the labels. If the label is faded or illegible, affix a new label to the bottle. Reattach labels that are coming loose.
  • Store incompatible wastes in separate areas. See Chemical Storage for applicable chemical segregation guidelines.
  • Avoid storing glass containers on the floor where they can be easily broken or on the edge of counters/shelves where they can be knocked over. If glass containers must be stored on the floor, place them in secondary containment, e.g., a plastic tub.

Waste-Contaminated Debris

This includes gloves, paper, plastic, glass, and other inert debris contaminated with chemicals. There should be no free liquids or solid chemicals in debris waste, only residues.

  • Collect debris that contains any amount of a toxic (chemical) waste or a hazardous (chemical) waste.
  • Collect any waste contaminated with trace levels of a poison, carcinogen, mutagen, or teratogen. For example, solid debris contaminated with ethidium bromide (mutagen) or phenol (poison) should be collected as contaminated debris.

Debris that does not contain toxic or hazardous waste is not considered contaminated debris and may be disposed of in the regular trash.

Packaging:  Contaminated debris should be placed in sturdy plastic bags and closed securely. The outside of the bags should be labeled “[Chemical name] Contaminated Debris” or in the case of spill clean-up materials, “[Chemical name] Spill Clean-up Debris.” Do not use biohazard or radioactive waste bags for chemical waste or chemical-contaminated debris. (Note that ethidium bromide waste is a chemical waste, not a biohazardous waste.)

To request disposal of the contaminated debris, submit a pickup request on the DRS web site using the Waste Management tab. Select Request a Waste Pickup > Chemical Waste. Detailed instructions are available at the top of the Pickup Request page. The application allows you to chose from hundreds of contaminated debris wastes. However, if you have a contaminated debris waste not listed in the application, choose "New Chemical." In the Waste Description box list each constituent of the debris waste (e.g., paper towels contaminated with acetic acid). If you need assistance contact the DRS ( or 217-333-2755).

Laboratory Glassware Waste Disposal

Laboratory glassware waste is any disposable item that is not defined as a sharp. The following are examples of laboratory glassware waste:

  • Intact or broken laboratory containers such as flasks, beakers, or bottles;
  • Small glass containers, ampoules, test tubes, vials;
  • Plastic pipettes and micropipette tips (glass pipettes are considered to be sharps);
  • Thin-layer chromatography (TLC) plates, watchglasses.

Laboratory glassware waste is not to be disposed of directly into the normal trash.

The disposal method for laboratory glassware waste depends on whether the item is contaminated with a hazardous material and, if so, the type of contaminant(s) and whether or not the glassware can be sufficiently decontaminated.

DRS will collect laboratory glassware if it cannot be decontaminated. If possible, glassware should be decontaminated as directed in the section Decontaminating Empty Containers and collected and disposed of as non-contaminated laboratory glassware waste.

For the disposal procedures for empty containers, see the section Decontaminating Empty Containers

For disposal purposes, there are four kinds of laboratory glassware wastes:

  1. Non-contaminated
  2. Biohazardous (infectious agents) contamination
  3. Chemical contamination
  4. Radioactive contamination

Non-contaminated laboratory glassware waste (broken or unbroken)

Non-contaminated laboratory glassware must be placed in a sturdy cardboard box, lined with a plastic bag, and labeled with the words "Clean Laboratory Glass - Trash." The box should be securely sealed shut with tape before disposal. Any cardboard box may be used, provided it is sturdy and of a size that will not weigh more than 40 pounds (18 kg) when full. Commercially available broken glassware disposal boxes may be used. When full, a properly labeled and sealed box may then be placed into the dumpster.

The laboratory glassware must be free of liquids and solids.

Do not use a bag displaying the biohazard symbol or the radiation hazard symbol to line the cardboard box. There must be no sharps placed in the box. When full, a properly labeled and sealed box may then be placed into the trash or directly into a dumpster.

Biohazardous (infectious agents) contaminated laboratory glassware waste

Biologically contaminated glassware is disposed of in a Sharps Disposal Container. See the Sharps page for more information.

Chemically contaminated laboratory glassware waste (broken or unbroken)

Laboratory glassware that is contaminated with elemental mercury and/or a chemical listed on the Acute Discarded Waste List should be discarded through the DRS chemical waste disposal program.

Contact DRS (call 217-333-2755 or email for instructions on the collection and disposal of lab glassware contaminated with an acutely toxic chemical.

Laboratory glassware that is not contaminated with elemental mercury or a chemical listed on the Acute Discarded Waste List may be disposed of by collecting the waste glassware in a sturdy cardboard box lined with a plastic bag and labeled with the words "Laboratory Glass - Trash." The box should be securely sealed shut with tape before disposal. Any sturdy cardboard box may be used, provided that it does not weigh more than 40 pounds (18 kg) when full. Commercially available broken glassware disposal boxes may be used. The box must be free of any visible signs of chemical contamination. There should be no free liquids in the box or odor emanating from the box. Do not use a bag displaying the biohazard symbol or the radiation hazard symbol to line the cardboard box. There must be no sharps placed in the box. When full, a properly labeled and sealed box may be placed into the trash or directly into a dumpster.

Radioactive contaminated laboratory glassware waste

See the Radiologically Contaminated Glassware disposal procedures.

Waste Minimization

Waste minimization is any action that reduces the amount and/or toxicity of a chemical waste that must be shipped off-site for disposal as hazardous waste. The EPA ranks the three primary methods for waste minimization as follows:

  1. Source reduction,
  2. Recycling,
  3. Treatment.

The American Chemical Society has also recognized the need for minimizing chemical waste and has written a document, “Less is Better,” on the topic.

Source reduction

Source reduction is the most desirable and effective method of waste minimization. This is any activity that reduces or eliminates the generation of chemical waste at the source. Laboratories can accomplish this by good material management, using the least hazardous materials possible, and good laboratory procedures.

Good material management means purchasing only the amount of chemical needed for a procedure.Buy only what you need. Use all of what you buy.

It is also good laboratory procedure to prepare only the amount of solutions needed for the work anticipated; to consider the types and amounts of wastes to be generated as a factor in choosing techniques and procedures; and to handle and store chemicals  so as to minimize spill prevention.


Recycling is reusing a waste material for another purpose, treating and reusing it in the same process, or reclaiming it for another process. This is the second most desirable approach to waste minimization. Solvent redistillation is one example of recycling laboratory material. The University of Illinois’ chemical redistribution program, ChemCycle, also supports this goal.


The third waste minimization method is treatment. From a regulatory point of view, this is best done in the laboratory because almost all treatment activities at the DRS waste storage facility require a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, but if treatment is conducted in the laboratory as part of an experimental or analytical procedure, a special permit is not required. The most common treatment is elementary neutralization. Other kinds of treatment may involve chemical, physical, or biological methods.

Last Update: 9/1/2016