Should You Dispose of Excess Organic Solvents or Recycle It?

Organic solvents have been utilized for a broad scope of applications from paint thinners, adhesives, cleaners, spot removers and even for extracting essential oils. Though there are various uses of organic solvents, from being extremely toxic if ingested or inhaled, to being flammable and even explosive, the most important thing to note is that it is not biodegradable and hence disposal in landfills or by incineration in incinerators will further add to the burden of environmental pollution. 

What Classifies an Organic Solvent?

Organic solvents are organic chemicals that dissolve or otherwise alter substances to produce solutions with low viscosity. Solvents evaporate easily. In simple terms, a solvent is a liquid that dissolves other substances. There are several types of organic solvents, with most being flammable and volatile.

Organic solvents are made of hydrogen and carbon atoms. A solvent is considered organic if it contains carbon, which usually gives the liquid certain characteristic properties. Examples of organic solvents include alcohols, ketones, esters, ethers, chlorohydrocarbons, and sulfur-containing compounds. Nonpolar solvents dissolve nonpolar molecules well; polar solvents dissolve polar molecules well.

Advances in organic chemistry have allowed organic chemists to carry out reactions that are impossible or difficult to perform in aqueous (water based) systems. Organic solvents like benzene, chloroform and ethers (diethyl ether and tetrahydrofuran) are often used in these reactions because their boiling points are low enough to allow reactions to be run at mild temperatures, and they do not interact with the organics the way water might.

Organic solvents are used in a variety of manufacturing processes. These might include the manufacturing of plastics, textiles, detergents, paints and dyes as well as degreasing parts for not only the automotive industry but also the oil and defense industries. Manufacturers use these non-polar solvents because they dissolve oils from plastic, making them great for cleaning. However, any solvent that spills or leaks should be cleaned up immediately before it can seep into the ground or get into contact with your skin.


Types of Organic Solvents

While there are several types of solvents, we can categorize them into three basic groups according to their structure and functionality: 

  • Aliphatic Solvent- Belonging to the group of Alkenes
  • Aromatic Solvents- Having a Benzene ring structure
  • Carbonyls Solvent- Polar Solvent containing Esters

Are Organic Solvents Harmful to the Environment?

Organic solvents, due to their volatility and often high toxicity, can cause harm to the environment as well as human health. In California, the zero waste goals, green chemistry principles and the risk of nonsolvent alternatives have driven a variety of green solvent initiatives. For example, a green solvent is defined as a solvent that has a reduced impact on human health and the environment compared with a traditional petroleum-derived solvent.

Recycling organic solvents is the eco-friendly solution. The closed-loop system keeps these valuable chemicals in use and out of landfills, and conserves energy and natural resources. 

What are the Disposal Methods of Organic Solvents?

It is illegal to dispose of hazardous waste in a landfill or dispose of it down the drain. These wastes must be recycled or treated. If they are not, you could face stiff penalties.

There are special rules for disposing of organic solvents. These include things like making sure there’s no way the health of the environment or people could be threatened by them.

When properly handled and even stored for disposal, organic solvents can be used safely and indefinitely. They should be put in appropriate containers that won’t leak and that are brightly labeled with “Hazardous Material: Name of Chemical” so people know what they’re dealing with.

If you have excess quantities of unused or unwanted solvents that will not be used in future operations, they can be disposed of through a licensed facility, neutralized in a process called in situ chemical oxidation. If you have a solvent that is produced as a by-product in a manufacturing process and aren’t able to recover its value through recycling, you can safely dispose of it at an appropriate disposal site.

The EPA and its local and state counterparts (like PIER and DEQ) recommend (require) that solvents be “recycled” as much as possible, before they are disposed of. This doesn’t mean your solvent is safe for drinking; it means it remains in the family of non-oil-based chemicals to which it belongs (i.e. Ethanol as opposed to Nano Oil or Chloroform), and thus does not contribute appreciably to global warming — although flammability issues obviously remain.


The EPA requires hazardous waste to be transported accurately and disposed of properly at a permitted disposal site. But as you can imagine, transporting hazardous waste is no easy feat. you need to be certain that you are abiding by the local government rules and regulations for safe transportation of organic solvent waste. Sometimes the best and safest option is to get in contact with a trustworthy company to do this for you.

However, this can be a costly endeavor. And aside from the high cost, the more mature green decision is to reduce these costs as much as possible by recycling organic solvent as much as possible. Not only do you save money on transportation and disposal services, but you save on overheads as the solvents can be repurposed too. 

Is It Preferred to Dispose of the Organic Solvents or Recycle It?

There are two ways to dispose of organic solvents – you can recycle them or dispose of them. Recycling them is very common and, for the most part, is the preferable option.

Naturally, there will be some cases where the spent solvent is inadmissible for recycling. However, the majority of organic solvents can, and should be, recycled and repurposed. 

The recycling of organic solvents is an important component of total waste management.

Benefits of Recycling Organic Solvents

Organic solvents are often the second costliest production material for chemical manufacturers, and many companies keep large amounts of these solvents for an extended period of time.

Companies will benefit from a solvent recycling system in the following ways:

Overall, the benefits boil down to two simple things. An effective solvent recycling system can reduce your costs and is environmentally friendly. 

Financial Benefit

The high cost of solvents and resulting waste cause unnecessary costs that can be easily saved with an effective solvent recycling system. If you recycle your organic solvents, you’ll reduce the amount of hazardous waste while also reducing the amount of solvent you purchase and store.

Let’s take a look at an example to illustrate just how much money a company can save through recycling organic solvents:

Let’s say a machine leaves at least $300 worth of excess solvent that needs to be disposed of. But if that excess is recycled, you could end up only needing to dispose of $20 worth of waste. 

The result? 95% reduction in transport and disposal costs. And that’s quite a common statistic that sits on the desks of many who have gone down the route of recycling their organic solvent. Typically, companies save between 80 and 95% of disposal costs simply through recycling, which is a very on-brand principle to put into practice.

Which leads us to the next benefit; recycling and turning to greener alternatives will be for your brand image, not just your bottom line. 

Greener Brand Image

In a marketplace where greener initiatives are driving public interest more and more, choosing to recycle spent solvents is an investment that pays off for your brand image too.

But here’s another thing you probably haven’t thought of, if your brand is associated with a low-impact image, it will be easier for you to charge higher prices. While this is arguable, there are quite a few surveys that suggest consumers are willing to pay more for more sustainable solutions. 

Environmental Impact

And perhaps the most important benefit of all, even if you are solely driven by the figures on your bottom line, is that it is better for the environment. 

Let’s look at the two possible options. You can either recycle your solvent or dispose of it; both options will impact the environment. One option will have a more adverse effect on the environment. And one option will be helping the environment. Which do you think is the better option? 

Recycling your hazardous waste is the responsible thing to do. It reduces its impact on the environment because no unwanted chemicals are released into the environment we occupy and depend on.

How Solvent Washers Can Help You Recycle Organic Solvents in Your Industry

Whatever your industry, we are confident that Solvent Washer can help with your recycling needs. Use our ROI calculator to determine your basic needs, and select from four options to suit your recycling requirements. If you’re still undecided, the easiest way to determine exactly how you can leverage Solvent Washer to save your company’s money and spent solvent, is by requesting a demo. 

The Bottom Line

When you’re disposing of organic solvents, you’re adding another layer of pollution to the planet. By recycling and turning to greener alternatives, you can help preserve the planet’s environment and reduce your costs.