hazardous waste packaging

The packaging your waste is in really matters. There are many containers out there, but it’s critical that you use the right one. All hazardous waste (HW) must be shipped in an UN‐rated container, indicated by a stamp or label on the container.

The UN‐rating label includes details that describe the container and what it is designed to hold. Each section on the rating is coded by DOT regulations (49 CFR 178.502). An UN‐rating confirmation is very helpful to ensure a smooth HW pickup.

The image at the top of the post is a visual example of a label taken from a 5-gallon screw-top pail. While it may look like a secret code, it’s actually an information-packed description of the container and its contents:

  • The container is an open‐top, polymer drum.
  • It can hold 30 kilograms of DOT Packing Group II, solid material.
  • It was made in the USA in 2018.
  • The manufacturer’s registration number is “M2074.”

How to Determine the Best Container for Hazardous Waste

The waste itself, based on the chemical constituents, determines the safest container type for the waste. The references in Column 8 of the HMR Table identify applicable packaging for the waste.  A couple of distinguishing container characteristics are the material type and opening type.

Material Type

The waste placed within a container needs to be compatible with the material used to make the container. There are several common material types:

  • Polymer (poly/plastic): Polymer drums work well for many different items. However, some solvents dissolve polymers.
  • Metal (steel): Metal drums are excellent for flammable liquids, but acids will erode them.
  • Fiber (cardboard): Fiber containers are cost-effective but can be compromised easily by improperly packaged

Open- or Closed‐Top Containers

Open‐top containers have a removable lid allowing for nearly complete access to the contents of the drum. Most open‐top containers are designed for only solids or smaller, closed containers to be packed within. Closed‐top containers have a smaller container opening or “bung.” These are intended for free liquids without any inner containers.

Specific Containers Help Ensure Proper Waste Segregation

While a hazardous waste container color does not affect its rating or suitability for usage, some programs are designed around the use of a specific container.

For example, the Sharps Compliance DEA mailback packaging has a particular lid color for quickly distinguishing it from other small pails. This color-coding can help your staff correctly segregate wastes. Proper segregation helps protect your staff and waste disposal employees. There’s also a financial aspect: disposal costs for regulated medical wastes are considerably higher than for general wastes.

Below are two examples of the containers for common HW waste streams:

5‐Gallon Polymer Carboy

  • 5‐Gallon Polymer Carboy
    • Formalin liquids
    • High BTU Liquids (such as Gram Stain)
    • Used X‐ray fixer and developer liquids


5‐Gallon Polymer, Screw‐top Pail

  • 5‐Gallon Polymer, Screw‐top Pail
    • Hazardous waste pharmaceuticals
    • Formalin sample jars
    • Inhalers/aerosols


Check that your current HW containers are UN‐rated. Sharps will provide the packaging needed to meet your hazardous waste disposal requirements. Contact us to learn more.


Chandra Lippitt has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Colorado School of Mines. She is certified in RCRA and DOT as well as 40 Hour HAZWOPER certified. Chandra has been in the hazardous waste industry since 2008 and has managed industrial, healthcare, retail, and governmental clients, both large and small.

published in Hazardous Waste