Chemicals in production and laboratory environments alike have three distinct lifecycle phases: the first is procurement and inventory storage; the second is use in a manufacturing process or research program; and the third is post-use, including onsite handling, removal and beneficial reuse, recycle or disposal.
A number of considerations including regulations, safety, material utilization efficiency, costs and sustainability govern all of the steps in this lifecycle. The challenge for laboratory and production managers is to balance these sometimes competing forces to create an effective process that meets the organization’s overall needs.
Proper chemical handling during processing is typically emphasized in production facilities, but how to handle chemicals post-use is often given less attention. While this article examines the full chemical lifecycle, it focuses on this post-use phase.
Every laboratory and chemical processor must follow environmental, health and safety (EH&S) procedures and regulations. This is often a challenge, especially for smaller operations, since implementation frequently rests on individual managers, local teams and staff who have other primary responsibilities. Regardless of size, laboratory and production managers must periodically review their policies, conduct training and audit their chemical inventories and waste materials. Requirements, processes and regulations change, and it is management’s responsibility to remain in compliance, while meeting everyday production demands.
Environmental sustainability continues to increase in importance and is embraced as a corporate goal at many manufacturing organizations. This takes chemical management beyond the traditional regulatory and safety considerations. The chemical process industries (CPI) have become even greater stewards of the materials throughout their entire lifecycles as they seek ways to further reuse or recycle materials that were historically disposed of as waste (Figure 1).
Sustainability requires the minimization of consumption and waste in order to reduce environmental impact through process optimization and reuse or recycling whenever possible. This can require additional recordkeeping and administrative steps. The challenge, when it comes to chemical lifecycle management, is to find operationally efficient and cost-effective ways to reduce the overall waste stream through process optimization, efficient material use, tolling or selling recyclable materials to a secondary market.
Purchasing and storage
Effective chemical management starts before the chemicals arrive at the site. Laboratory and operations personnel need to work carefully with purchasing staff to order the correct amounts, minimize order errors and ensure that proper receiving and storage provisions are in place. For operations personnel, it is a balance between anticipating customer orders and manufacturing volume in order to eliminate production interruptions, minimize storage and other inventory costs, and to avoid having to dispose of outdated materials. Purchasing staff can consolidate orders to lower costs, but they must have an understanding of the chemical properties and intended uses in order to ensure that materials are consumed before they begin to degrade and negatively affect chemical reactions or final product properties. Overall, the CPI have done a good job utilizing continuous improvement techniques to manage their supply chains.
Once received, the materials must be stored in accordance with local, state and provincial regulations, or the International Code Council’s (ICC) International Building and International Fire Codes, and handled in accordance with company EH&S procedures. In the U.S., handling must follow the Occupational Health & Safety Admin.’s (OSHA) Code of Federal Regulations (Title 29 CFR 1910.1200), which covers Hazard Communication Standards (HCS), the federal Risk Management Program for certain highly toxic chemical compounds regulated under the Clean Air Act, and the Chemical Hygiene Standard for laboratories (Title 29 CFR 1910.1450).