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Managing Hazardous Waste When Natural Disasters Strike

Hurricanes damage buildings, lives and communities—and they can also have a significant impact on retailers. It can be very difficult for a business to reopen its doors after a disaster, especially if it is unprepared to withstand the damaging effects. So what should retailers be doing to protect their businesses?

For one, business owners must be aware of the different effects a natural disaster can have on a business. While financial devastation, building destruction and displaced families are obvious effects of natural disasters, many business owners don’t realize that hazardous spills and leaks are also a likely consequence of large and small-scale disasters.

To safeguard facilities, retailers must start thinking about cleanup before disaster strikes. To reduce the risks of injury, environmental harm or regulatory penalties, business owners should develop a disaster response plan to ensure proper hazardous waste management.

Here is a guide for how retailers can prepare for the worst and develop a hazardous waste disaster response plan with regards to hazardous waste.

Preparation is key when it comes to safely and compliantly handling emergency spills. Proactive planning will not only help to protect facilities, but it can also lessen health risks to your customers and staff and reduce environmental liability.

Hazardous leaks and spills can be the result of several factors, too. From fierce winds to extreme flooding, facility managers should understand the numerous ways an emergency spill could take place and prepare for all possibilities. For example, a flooded retail store means products – which may contain hazardous materials – become damaged or are deemed unsellable or unsalvageable. A proper disaster response plan would involve segregating products according to waste stream and appropriately disposing of them.

In order to prepare facilities to withstand any effect of a hurricane, it’s imperative a disaster response plan is created.

Several factors must be taken into consideration in order to create these plans. From securing all hazardous chemicals safely outside of potential flooding areas, to identifying what hazardous wastes could be generated and understanding what type of reporting and paperwork must be completed after an incident, there are many elements that should be considered.

Ultimately, one of the best ways a retailer can protect itself against a natural disaster is to prepare before a storm ever strikes.

If a known storm is on its way, retailers should remove hazardous waste when possible from stores. However, that can be an unmanageable task if a hurricane is coming your way. If unable to remove all hazardous materials, there are safety precautions that must be followed.

Solids and powders should be covered in plastic and secured properly, and the correct lids should be firmly fastened on containers. Containment areas should be set up and properly cleaned. Known waste areas should also be cleared out in advance of a major storm. Whenever possible, move hazardous wastes into higher storage areas and ensure that storage containment such as flammable liquids cabinets are adequately closed.

Even when total removal of hazardous waste is impossible from a site, it’s important that necessary steps are taken to properly secure materials and protect against potential storm damage.

An important aspect of an emergency response plan is to ensure members of emergency response teams possess extensive and specialized knowledge of hazardous substances and waste management.

After contamination, trained employees should examine materials to determine whether or not they need to be disposed of. After all, not all damaged products need disposing of, as they might be able to be sent to a salvage facility where they can be donated to an organization in need. Even if your business can’t resell the product, don’t just assume it needs to be thrown away.

For hazardous materials that must be profiled for disposal, it’s vital they’re processed and handled appropriately. Sampling and analytical testing must be completed and it should be determined whether or not materials should be recycled or repurposed in order to reduce the total amount of waste resulting from an emergency response cleanup.

Hazardous waste management can be complex. To mitigate the stressors of emergency response cleanup, retailers should find an experienced third-party emergency response partner. A knowledgeable waste management partner will allow retailers to reopen affected locations as quickly as possible.

By engaging an emergency response team prior to hurricane season, businesses can receive valuable insight from these experts that will help minimize spills and any damage inflicted by severe weather. It also helps to following partner recommendations to move and secure hazardous materials before the storm arrives to alleviate any emergency response expenses.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that without a preexisting agreement in place for an emergency response partner, it could take longer to service and assess a business, as their priority will be to tend to customers first. Therefore, it is important to find the best emergency response partner for your retail location before hurricane season begins, rather than waiting until the damage has been done.
Hurricanes can have a long-lasting impact on a business. By taking the proper precautions to prepare ahead of time, retailers can ensure their stores are able to reopen doors after a natural disaster as quickly as possible.

Maricha Ellis is VP of marketing and sales operations for Stericycle Environmental Solutions, which assists customers with hazardous waste transportation and disposal, industrial cleanup, household hazardous waste, site restoration, emergency response services and more. 
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