Following Emory’s Waste: Where Does It Go And Who Does It Affect?

Historically, waste has been a burden placed on vulnerable and marginalized communities, so our office wanted to follow Emory’s waste by using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice tool to see which communities are being affected. We hope that contextualizing where our waste goes will remind us that there is no “away” when we throw away.

If you want to get more involved in our waste reduction initiatives, visit our website to learn more about programs like Zero Waste Ambassadors, Green Offices at Emory, Green Labs at Emory and the Sustainable Events Certification program. These programs have all been grounded in an effort to help community members understand our connection to communities and to take conscious actions to reduce their contributions to polluting industries that affect those who live near these facilities. To learn more about general waste diversion and reduction at Emory, check out our Zero Landfill Waste initiative.

Landfill Waste

Our landfill waste goes to Pine Ridge Landfill in Griffin, Georgia, which is 40 miles south of campus. In Griffin, immediately surrounding the landfill, 23% of residents identify as a racial minority, 41% of residents identify as low income, and 22% of adults have less than a high school education. On a positive note, this landfill is a landfill-gas-to-energy plant that captures methane gas, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, and converts it to a clean-burning fuel.

The immediate area surrounding the facility has a hazardous waste proximity between the nation’s 50th and 60th percentiles.

Nonhazardous Chemical Waste

Nonhazardous chemical waste includes chemicals not regulated by the EPA (mostly chemicals that are not as hazardous as regulated chemicals), such as silica gel, latex paint, and certain lab chemicals like sucrose and iodine. Our nonhazardous chemical waste goes to US Ecology Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, immediately surrounding the facility, more than 95% of residents identify as a racial minority, 25% of residents identify as low income, and 4% of adults have less than a high school education.

The immediate area surrounding the facility has a hazardous waste proximity between the nation’s 80th and 90th percentiles.

Hazardous Chemical Waste

Hazardous waste chemicals from Emory’s research and teaching labs are incinerated or fuel blended for use in cement kilns. Our hazardous chemical waste goes to US Ecology Sulligent Inc. in Sulligent, Alabama, which is 220 miles west of campus. In Sulligent, immediately surrounding the facility, 48% of residents identify as a racial minority, 61% of residents identify as low income, and 15% of adults have less than a high school education.

If you work in a lab, don’t buy chemicals in bulk! By micro-scaling your experiments and only buying as much solvent as is needed, you can avoid disposing of unneeded, expired chemicals. Check our our Green Labs at Emory Program for more tips!

The immediate area surrounding the facility has a hazardous waste proximity between the nation’s 50th and 60th percentiles.

Regulated Medical Waste

Regulated medical waste is compromised of products saturated in blood or other bodily fluids, such as used sharps, including surgical materials and needles. Emory’s medical waste comes from our hospitals and clinics. Our regulated pharmaceutical waste goes to US Ecology Tampa, Inc. in Tampa, Florida, which is 430 miles south of campus. In Tampa, immediately surrounding the incinerator, 58% of residents identify as a racial minority, 80% of residents identify as low income, and 43% of adults have less than a high school education.
Medical students, residents, and clinicians can reduce regulated medical waste by evaluating carefully whether or not an item is required to be disposed of in red bags or bins. This saves Emory money too, as medical waste is five to ten times more costly than landfill waste. Additionally, when possible, hospitals and clinics should send medical devices to be reprocessed rather than disposing of them after a single use. Purchasing reprocessed medical devices also helps. For more information on reducing medical waste properly, we recommend reading this article.

The immediate area surrounding the facility has a hazardous waste proximity above the nation’s 95th percentile.

Regulated Pharmaceutical Waste

Our regulated pharmaceutical waste goes to two locations. One is the Stericycle Treatment Facility in Lake City, Georgia, which is 15 miles south of campus. In Lake City, immediately surrounding the facility, 93% of residents identify as a racial minority, 48% of residents identify as low income, and 22% of adults have less than a high school education.

The immediate area surrounding the Lake City facility has a hazardous waste proximity between the nation’s 70th and 80th percentiles.

Our regulated pharmaceutical waste also goes to the Stericycle Incineration Facility in Apopka, Florida, which is 440 miles southeast of campus. In Apopka, immediately surrounding the incinerator, 64% of residents identify as a racial minority, 38% of residents identify as low income, and 8% of adults have less than a high school education.

The immediate area surrounding the Apopka facility has a hazardous waste proximity between the nation’s 50th and 80th percentiles.

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